CHICAGO – A lawsuit filed by the Illinois Native American Bar Association against the University of Illinois has been dismissed.
The lawsuit, filed in March in Cook County Circuit Court, sought to force the UI to stop using Chief Illiniwek as a sports symbol. The plaintiffs claimed its use was a violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003.
Judge David Donnersberger dismissed the suit in an order filed Sept. 23. His ruling noted the Illinois legislature specifically approved use of Chief Illiniwek as "the honored symbol" of the UI. The statute passed by the legislature became effective June 1, 1996.
The Illinois Civil Rights Act, which prohibits the state from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin, went into effect Jan. 1, 2004. Donnersberger said the civil rights statute did not expressly repeal the ruling by the legislature on Chief Illiniwek, and therefore it can be interpreted as not applying to the use of Chief Illiniwek as authorized by the legislature.
"The judge tossed the ball into the legislature's court, which is an interesting turn of events," said Richard Hutchison, a Tinley Park attorney who is representing the bar association. "We argued the use of the Chief as a sports mascot is not using the Chief as an honored symbol of the university, but the judge listened to the arguments of the defendant on that issue and basically said, 'Go to the legislature.'"
Hutchison urged those opposed to Chief Illiniwek to lobby the legislature to repeal the statute.
He added, "The university needs to do what's right here. ... Our university ought to be a leader in correcting the problem, which is the demeaning of minority persons."
UI spokesman Tom Hardy said the UI's position is the plaintiffs didn't make their case that the Chief Illiniwek symbol violates the civil rights act.
Kim Cook, president of the Illinois Native American Bar Association, said the organization would meet soon to decide whether to appeal the ruling. It has 30 days from the date of the order to file an appeal.