The Illinois Supreme Court today denied a petition seeking review of a recent appellate court ruling rejecting a term limit ballot initiative as unconstitutional.
The court's decision means the proposal championed by GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner will not be put to the voters in a referendum on the November ballot.
Editor's note: Below is a story published Thursday regarding the request for high court review.
As expected, the Illinois Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in on a ballot initiative seeking to impose term limits on state lawmakers.
The request from the proposal’s drafter was filed Thursday, one day after a state appeals panel affirmed a lower court ruling deeming the initiative unconstitutional and one day before the deadline for ballot initiatives to be certified by the state’s election board.
The Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits -- a group chaired by GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and an intervenor in Frank Clark et. al, v. Illinois State Board of Elections, et al.-- filed a petition for leave to appeal, as well as an separate motion asking the court to consider the case on an expedited basis.
“The need for speedy and definitive answers to these questions is pressing,” the committee claims. “Unless this Court grants the petition on an emergency basis, the issue is unlikely to be resolved before the impending deadline, and the voters of Illinois, who will be deprived of their opportunity to vote on the initiative, will be irreparably harmed.”
In its 17-page petition, the committee contends Wednesday’s ruling from the First District Appellate Court conflicts with Supreme Court precedent and “unjustifiably circumscribes the power reserved for the people of Illinois to combat legislative self-interest and to enact necessary reform through the constitutional initiative process.”
“As such, if permitted to stand,” the committee asserts, “the Opinion will have a dramatic impact not only on Illinois voters’ ability to enact the popular reforms proposed in the present initiative in the upcoming November 2014 election, but also on the people’s rights more generally to utilize an important constitutional mechanism that the framers of the 1970 Illinois Constitution intended would reserve significant power to the citizens of this state to institute needed amendments to the Legislative Article.”
The appellate court ruling at the crux of the committee’s petition affirmed Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Mikva’s June ruling that deemed the term limit proposal unconstitutional.
When the issue was in the circuit court, the plaintiffs, a group of business executives, argued that term limits are neither a structural or procedural subject and as such, the proposal failed to satisfy section 3, Article XIV, which governs ballot initiatives seeking to amend the Constitution.
The committee asked the court to look at the proposal as a whole, rather than just at the term limits provision. It claims that term limits was just one component of its proposal, which also called for changes to the size of the legislature and veto procedures.
Siding with the plaintiffs, Mikva said the proposal’s other components didn’t matter because the term limits provision wasn’t limited to a structural or procedural subject in the legislative article as required by section 3, Article XIV of the Constitution.
She also said the term limits proposal “runs headlong into” the Supreme Court’s 1994 ruling in Chicago Bar Association v. Illinois State Board of Elections, also known as CBA II, a case in which the court rejected a term limits proposal.
The proposal at issue in CBA II happened to be brought by Rauner’s opponent in the upcoming election, Gov. Pat Quinn, who was treasurer at the time.
Shortly after Mikva’s ruling came down, the committee unsuccessfully sought direct appeal to the Supreme Court, a move that effectively forced them to go through the normal appeals process and leaves little time for a high court review before Friday’s deadline for ballot initiatives to be certified.
The appellate court, in its recent 15-page ruling , affirmed Mikva’s ruling after determining the ballot initiative violates Section 3 of Article XIV, as well as the free and equal clause of the Constitution.
The panel – Justices Maureen Connors, Thomas Hoffman and Terrence Lavin – said “it was not persuaded by the Committee’s attempt to connect the term limits provision with other parts of the amendment.”
“We are bound by our supreme court’s holding—sparse as its reasoning was—that term limits involve ‘the eligibility or qualifications of an individual legislator,’ and so are neither structural nor procedural,” Connors wrote for the panel, citing CBA II.
She later added, “In spite of the Committee's attempt to make term limits part of structural and procedural changes, we find that the Committee has failed to adequately distinguish its proposed amendment from the amendment at issue in CBA II or provide a sufficient reason to depart from CBA II's holding.”
In its petition to the Supreme Court, the committee said that “the appellate court construes this Court’s decision in CBA II as barring any amendments to the Legislative Article relating to eligibility or qualifications of legislators.”
Such a “broad reading” of CBA II, the committee alleges, “has far-reaching ramifications for the people’s right to pursue the goals that motivated the adoption of Article XIV, Section 3 in the Illinois Constitution, namely initiating reforms that may be critically needed and popularly demanded but contrary to legislative self-interest.”
The committee further asserts that the Rauner-backed term limits proposal is “markedly different” than the one pushed by Quinn that was at issue in CBA II.
“[N]onetheless,” the committee claims the appellate court’s opinion “improperly treats the two initiatives as being identical, by virtue of the fact that the proposed legislative reform initiative has an incidental impact on eligibility and qualifications of legislators by initiating term limits as an integrated element of its changes to legislative terms overall.”
Because the appellate court’s opinion “creates an apparent rift in the Supreme Court’s precedents,” the committee contends it also “creates substantial confusion about whether certain aspects of the Legislative Article are excluded from the proper scope of the people’s right to amend the Illinois Constitution through constitutional initiative.”
The committee says this confusion “underscores the need for” the Supreme Court to grant its petition to make sure “that the law is clear, well-reasoned, and may be correctly applied.”
Saying that “the appellate court articulates an across-the-board prohibition on amendments touching on Legislative ‘eligibility or qualifications’ that this Court has never adopted,” the committee asserts it “is critical that this Court clarify the scope of CBA II.”
The committee also argues that the appellate court ruling conflicts with other Supreme Court decisions and “greatly expanded the scope of Article III, Section 3” by ignoring others, including its 1980 decision in Coalition for Political Honesty v. State Board of Elections.
“In fact,” the committee states in its petition, “the Opinion goes so far as to impose an entirely new requirement under Article III, Section 3 that has never been articulated by this Court and which significantly elevates the strictures of the free and equal clause beyond what the Illinois Constitution demands.”
The committee’s petition for leave to appeal was submitted by Chicago attorney J. Timothy Eaton of Taft Stettinius & Hollister. The plaintiffs are being represented by Chicago attorney Michael Kasper of Fletcher, O'Brien, Kasper & Nottage.