CHICAGO (CBS) — A downstate judge has ordered Gov. JB Pritzker to appear in court next week, to explain why he should not be held in contempt of court for continuing to issue executive orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, after the judge last month ruled the governor can’t extend disaster proclamations beyond 30 days.
Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia), who had filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s authority to issue executive orders during the virus outbreak, this week filed a petition asking Clay County Judge Michael McHaney to hold Pritzker in indirect civil contempt, and order him taken into custody “until he purges himself by rescinding the above-mentioned executive orders.”
McHaney issued an order Friday requiring Pritzker to appear in his courtroom on Aug. 14, to explain why he should not be held in contempt.
On Wednesday, Pritzker shrugged off Bailey’s petition, saying the Clay County rulings against his stay-at-home orders and reopening guidelines have been “ridiculous.”
“There’s no other court that has ruled as they have on the matter that they ruled on, and in fact there’s a judge on Friday who specifically pointed to Clay County and said that the decision by that judge was bereft of any legal analysis, and I think that’s accurate,” he said.
Pritzker press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh accused Bailey of “perpetuating a sideshow to this global pandemic.”
“This motion for contempt is legally baseless, frivolous and a distraction from the serious crisis facing our state. Not a single member of the GOP caucus in the General Assembly has yet to publicly express their rejection of or outrage at this legal maneuvering that creates unnecessary confusion around public health guidance,” she stated in an email.
Abudayyeh also said the judge’s order for the governor to appear in court, without first allowing him to respond to Bailey’s motion in writing, “is procedurally improper, violating elementary principles of fairness.”
“The State is grappling with its most serious challenge to the lives and health of its residents – a global pandemic – with an increasing number of counties at a warning level today due to outbreaks of cases, and all the while the GOP is playing politics. The Governor will continue to focus on protecting public health and not on the political sideshow in Clay County,” she wrote.
Several federal judges and state judges in other counties have upheld Pritzker’s authority to extend his original disaster proclamation beyond 30 days and enforce executive orders during the pandemic. According to published reports, Will County Judge John Anderson this week upheld the governor’s moratorium on evictions, and in his ruling noted all other judges hearing cases against the governor’s orders except one had sided with Pritzker. He said the rulings in Clay County are “bereft of meaningful legal analysis, and are wholly unpersuasive for that reason” and are not binding.
Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney ruled that state law does not allow governors to extend disaster proclamations for more than 30 days.
Pritzker first declared a statewide disaster back on March 9, and has since issued extensions every 30 days.
The governor’s office has argued McHaney’s ruling against his executive orders is not final, because the judge did not rule on every count of Bailey’s lawsuit, and his ruling did not include an injunction barring the state from enforcing the governor’s orders.