As Illinois’ financial, political and legal troubles continue to mount, a new book, issued by one of the state’s leading voices for reform, suggests the questions facing the state can largely be answered by amending the state’s constitution.
On May 16, the Illinois Policy Institute and the Liberty Justice Center announced the publication of a new book, “An Illinois Constitution for the 21st Century.”
Featuring selections from 16 contributors, including “top legal minds, policymakers and scholars,” the book proposes 12 ideas and specific amendments the authors and publishers believe are need to fix Illinois’ core problems.
“Politicians deserve blame for all of this,” said Jacob Huebert, senior attorney with the Liberty Justice Center. “But what many Illinoisans might not realize is that our current state constitution shares a large part of the blame, too.
“Illinois needs change at the constitutional level.”
Each of the book’s 12 chapters center on a particular idea for constitutional reform, including regarding “economic liberty,” religious freedom, eminent domain, term limits, gerrymandering, selection of judges, educational choice, state fiscal reforms, pension reforms and allowing Illinois citizens the chance to amend the state’s constitution themselves.
On a number of topics, for instance, the book assails the manner in which Illinois state judges have deferred to the federal courts to help interpret the state constitution, essentially denying Illinois citizens the greater individual liberties and protections otherwise guaranteed under Illinois’ constitution.
During a special panel discussion at the University of Chicago to mark the launch of the book, contributor Timothy Sandefur, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute, said this so-called “lockstep doctrine,” under which state judges follow the leadings of the federal courts, breeds an environment in which Illinois residents’ political and economic freedoms are needlessly limited.
“We have it in our hands in the form of state constitutions to protect individual rights more broadly than the federal constitution does,” said Sandefur. “It’s basically what they’re for.
“But it does require hard intellectual work. This book is a first step to making that hard intellectual work a reality.”
Specifically, the book calls on the state to amend its constitution to reduce barriers to marketplaces by prohibiting “the state government from imposing licensing and permitting except where essential to protect public health and safety;”
To better balance religious rights with LGBT discrimination protections;
To reform eminent domain procedures by better defining “which uses qualify as ‘public use’” and reducing the number of public entities that can assert eminent domain powers;
To impose term limits on state lawmakers; to take control of drawing legislative districts away from politicians, instead allowing a computer program to draw the boundaries;
Setting a 20-year lifespan on new state laws, after which they would be reviewed, and possibly renewed;
To empower the governor to appoint trial and appellate judges to limited terms;
To create a system of “tax-credit-funded and publicly funded scholarships, personal use tax credits and deductions, and education savings accounts” to give parents and students more educational options and ostensibly increase student performance;
To restrict the use of public funds for private purposes, reducing “corruption and cronyism from Illinois politics;”
To institute a series of “pro-growth fiscal reforms;”
To reform the state’s public pension system, reducing the burden on current and future taxpayers, while restoring funding to social services; and
Amending the manner by which the state constitution can be amended, giving citizens the chance “to submit ballot initiative amendments to any section of the state constitution” and to “not limit such amendments to structural and procedural subjects” – language that has been used on numerous occasions by judges to deny voters the chance to change the way the state’s legislative districts are drawn.
Copies of the book are available on Amazon or through the Illinois Policy Institute. Chapter summaries are posted at IllinoisConstitution.com.