CHICAGO — A judge in southern Illinois ruled Monday that Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the coronavirus exceeds his emergency authority and violates individual civil rights.
Clay County Circuit Judge Michael McHaney sided with Republican Rep. Darren Bailey, who sought a temporary restraining order against the Democratic governor’s far-reaching executive order. Pritzker has relied on an April 2 statewide disaster declaration as authority to close schools, shut down nonessential businesses and limit movement by individuals from their homes because of the potentially deadly COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Given word of the ruling during his daily briefing in Chicago on the state’s response to COVID-19, Pritzker accused Bailey, a Xenia resident, of being “blindly devoted to ideology and the pursuit of personal celebrity.”
“It’s insulting. It’s dangerous and people’s safety and health have now been put at risk,” Pritzker said. “There may be people who contract coronavirus as a result of what Darren Bailey has done.”
Bailey did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but told reporters outside the courthouse in Louisville that civil liberties can be infringed when citizens don’t challenge government power.
“We continue now to do what we do best: Live safely, respectfully and … to take certain precautions, but not to be limited by government,” Bailey said.
Pritzker promised “swift” action to overturn the judge’s order, which applies only to Bailey but allows other individuals and groups to challenge the movement restrictions while the highly contagious illness circulates.
The ruling came the same day House Republicans attacked Pritzker on another front, renewing demands for details on state prison inmates released early because of COVID-19 fears.
Pritzker signed an order earlier this month allowing furloughs for elderly inmates or those with health conditions, who are considered “medically vulnerable” to contracting and spreading COVID-19. Roughly 36,000 people are incarcerated in Illinois facilities and civil rights advocates have raised concerns about inmate welfare.
House Republicans hosted a video news conference Monday, saying their requests for information have been ignored, including details on how many have been freed and how the Illinois Department of Corrections determines who gets released.
“Our concern is that the governor and IDOC are using this pandemic as a way to push their political agenda of releasing inmates, rather than actually looking out for the public safety,” said Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville.
State officials have not been specific on the numbers.
Illinois’ prison population has been reduced by about 1,300 inmates, Pritzker said Monday during his daily coronavirus news conference. He said that includes commutations and those included in his order but didn’t specify a timeline or a detailed breakdown. He said he would gladly provide the necessary numbers and his spokeswoman suggested contacting IDOC for the information.
But in response to an Associated Press public records request for the names of inmates released because of the pandemic, IDOC provided a link to an online document showing all inmates released since March 1. The list of roughly 3,900 inmates doesn’t include the reasons for their release.
An IDOC spokeswoman didn’t return a message seeking comment Monday.
There have been coronavirus outbreaks at the state’s correctional facilities. State data show 153 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, with the vast majority at Stateville Correction Center in Crest Hill, where there have been 10 deaths. Overall, 147 corrections employees have also tested positive, with 74 at Stateville.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or modest symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe life-threatening illness, including pneumonia.
Illinois officials reported 50 new deaths related to COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total statewide death toll to 1,983. The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 1,980 new cases, for a total of 45,883 in Illinois.
O’Connor reported from Springfield, Illinois.
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