Pritzker emergency No. 19 comes almost 2 months after Illinois’ full reopening
Gov. J.B Pritzker extended his own emergency powers and Illinois’ disaster zone status through Aug. 21, claiming they were necessary to promote state vaccination efforts. When asked when he would give up his emergency powers, Pritzker wouldn’t say.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his 19th disaster proclamation July 23, again extending his emergency powers over Illinois’ government despite fully reopening the state nearly two months ago.
At the end of this latest 30-day declaration, Pritzker will have wielded emergency powers for 529 consecutive days.
While the governor has previously justified his retention of emergency powers as necessary in the absence of accessible vaccines for Illinoisans, he now argues the powers are paramount to providing and promoting state vaccination efforts.
When pressed in a July 26 interview on what specific measure the state would need to meet for the governor to relinquish his emergency powers, Pritzker responded in generalities.
“There’s always something that we need to be monitoring about this pandemic because as you’ve seen that even though we have vaccines available there is a good number of people in our population who are not yet vaccinated,” Pritzker told Illinois Capitol News.
“What’s important is to keep the people of Illinois healthy and safe, and that’s making sure people get vaccinated.”
Pritzker did not specify how many Illinoisans would have to get vaccinated for him to lift the state’s disaster status. Nor did Pritzker provide any specifics on when he would give up his emergency powers.
Pritzker first declared a statewide disaster when COVID-19 hit in mid-March 2020, invoking the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act. A section of the act provides that in the case of a disaster, the governor can issue a proclamation declaring the disaster and grant himself 30 days of emergency powers over state institutions, operations and public health.
Pritzker has invoked his emergency powers to sign 80 executive orders into law during the past 17 months. These executive orders include issuing statewide stay-at-home orders, limiting the size of public gatherings, suspending the enforcement of laws and agency operations and closing schools and businesses deemed non-essential.
But the act states emergency powers are limited to 30 days. Pritzker has claimed he can extend his emergency power indefinitely by continuing to issue new disaster proclamations as they expire.
Without explicit rules on if Pritzker can extend his emergency power on his own authority, the task falls to the Illinois General Assembly to clarify with new legislation. State lawmakers have declined to do so.
Most states have not allowed emergency powers to last indefinitely. Emergency executive powers are meant to allow the governor to quickly address a disaster in a way that a deliberative body such as the General Assembly cannot. But when the disaster is nearly a year and one-half old, there is little reason for rules to be dictated rather than debated and implemented by elected representatives.
Since declaring a second disaster proclamation and shutting down non-essential businesses by executive order, Pritzker has become the target of multiple lawsuits alleging he overstepped his authority.
The first lawsuit was filed by state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, in Clay County during April 2020. A total of 19 lawsuits challenged Pritzker’s authority to order people to stay home and to close businesses.
State courts have since ruled to uphold the mitigation policies introduced under Pritzker’s Restore Illinois reopening plan and affirm his claim to emergency power by executive order for as long as he believes the disaster that caused the emergency continues.
But one case remains alive despite the Illinois Supreme Court rejecting an appeal bid on May 26. FoxFire Restaurant in Geneva, Illinois, filed suit a year ago claiming Pritzker’s orders were arbitrary. The case continues at the trial court level.
Illinois has made the mistake of putting unprecedented power in the hands of politicians before, giving rise to the state’s second-worst in the nation culture of corruption. But rather than return power to the elected officials Illinoisans chose to represent them, the majority of lawmakers have remained silent while Pritzker extends his emergency powers without constraint.
Illinois does not have a king. State lawmakers did nothing to dethrone Pritzker, but maybe a judge will.