The Illinois Republican Party and three local GOP groups sued Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker in federal court Monday, challenging a provision in his May 29 executive order that limits public gatherings to 10 people or less during the pandemic.
Along with the Will County Republican Central Committee, the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization and the Northwest Side GOP Club, the state GOP wants a federal judge to enjoin Pritzker from enforcing Executive Order 2020-38 against political parties.
They argue an injunction would allow them to hold in-person gatherings like campaign rallies without size restrictions in the run-up to the November general election.
The three-count complaint also seeks a declaratory judgment that Pritzker issued the order and its accompanying disaster proclamation ultra vires, or beyond the legal scope, of his authority under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act.
It further alleges Pritzker’s order violates the parties’ First and 14th Amendment rights because it explicitly lifted in-person restrictions for religious gatherings but not for political parties.
“Though the government has a compelling interest here in preventing the spread of COVID-19, its restrictions are not narrowly tailored because it is exempting certain politically powerful or sympathetic groups while enforcing them against similarly situated actors who lack the same political favor of the [g]overnor,” the suit contends.
The suit also points to Pritzker’s lack of enforcement of the order against protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police as “an exemption based on his sympathy, recognition, and participation.”
Daniel Suhr, a senior associate attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, which represents the plaintiffs, said in a videoconference with reporters Tuesday that events hosted by political parties are similar to protest rallies and marches — both are protected forms of speech, assembly and expression under the First Amendment.
But, Pritzker has been “picking and choosing” who receives “carve-outs” to the gathering limits outlined in his order, Suhr said, adding that political parties have not received the same exemptions.
“For us to have our rights in the fullest sense, we need to know ahead of time what they are,” Suhr said. “We shouldn’t have to live in fear that if we hold a particular event, the governor is going to make a game-day choice whether or not to send-in the cops.”
Suhr also said he thinks the equal protection claim raised in the complaint will bring the case more success than other challenges to Pritzker’s orders because federal courts in Illinois haven’t yet addressed this legal argument yet.
“It’s not saying we have a particular right that needs to be observed in this pandemic context in a particular way, as a matter of first principle,” Suhr said. “Rather it’s saying we have a right to equal treatment under the law. That if you’re going to treat churches this way, if you’re going to treat protestors this way, you have to treat us the same way.”
Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said, “This is about scoring political points and criticizing civil rights protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. The courts have repeatedly upheld the governor’s executive orders as based on public health guidance. And as the Republicans who attended protests against the public health guidance are well aware, the state has never prevented people from exercising their First Amendment rights.”
The Attorney General's Office will be handling the case, Abudayyeh noted.
This case is Illinois Republican Party et al. v. J.B. Pritzker, No. 20 C 3489.