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Republicans Sue Governor Over Limits On Gatherings

Dana Vollmer
NPR Illinois

The Illinois Republican Party is suing Governor J.B. Pritzker over the crowd limitations he imposed during the COVID-19 outbreak.  

The Republicans say it violates the equal protection and free speech clauses in the Constitution when the governor has allowed churches to be open and  protestors to march during the stay-at-home order.  State GOP Chairman Tim Schneider said that Democrats hold most of the power in Illinois as it is.

“The only thing providing a check on their power, the Illinois Republican Party, isn’t even allowed to get together to meet and properly plan and network for an election which is only five months away,” Schneider said, adding that the party should be allowed to hold gatherings and rallies as it chooses.

Schneider’s comments came following a weekend virtual gathering of Illinois Republicans. He said they feel disadvantaged because of the crowd restrictions during campaign season.

Republicans filed the federal suit in Chicago.

“That if you are going to treat churches this way. If you are going to treat protesters this way, you have to treat us the same way. We deserve the same equal treatment as everyone else,” said Daniel Suhr, an attorney with the Liberty Justice Center, the Chicago-based group representing the Republicans.

“Under the governor's executive order 100 people can go to church, they can sit inside on rows of chairs, but apart from one another, they can shake sanitized hands of the passing of the piece, and they can listen to a homily about faith. But those same 100 people could not get together. Sit in rows of chairs spread far apart from one another. Shake sanitized hands and listen to a 20 minute speech about the upcoming presidential election,” said Suhr.

The Governor recently removed official limits on the size of church-gatherings. Republicans say the crowd limits are hampering the party in the months leading up to the election.   

Democrats differ.

"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” said Jordan Abudayyeh, the Governor’s Press Secretary, in a statement.

Surh said his suit is taking a different legal approach than other challenges.

“Ours is an equal treatment claim or an equal protection claim. It's not saying we have a particular right that needs to be observed in this pandemic context in a particular way…Rather than 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 protestersthis way,  you have to treat us the same way. We deserve the same equal treatment as everyone else. And so I think that's a new claim. It's not one that courts have addressed here in Illinois yet. And we actually feel really confident that it will be a solid claim,” Surh said.

Democrats also responded to the Republican lawsuit Mary Morrissey, Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Illinois:

"We recall large groups of Republicans freely gathering at the Capitol and in downtown Chicago to protest Governor Pritzker's handling of how to reopen the state without legal ramifications. This lawsuit is a distraction from the real issue  -- a Republican president who the IL GOP considers the 'man of our time,' but has let over a hundred thousand Americans die because of his inaction. We support Governor Pritzker and the exemplary leadership he's shown throughout this public health crisis,” said a prepared statement, from Mary Morrisey, Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

The governor’s office has said the governor will be represented by the Illinois Attorney General’s office in the case.

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