My way or the highway?
Even Chicago politicians can't ignore court rulings.
Almost everyone who pays attention knows that Chicago is a world unto itself in political terms — a combination kleptocracy, feudal kingdom and den of iniquity.
But even by that dismal standard, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was shocking in her response last week to a federal appeals court decision striking down the concealed carry ban.
Alvarez, represented by one of her underlings, advised legislators last week to ignore the ruling because the appeals court had no authority to rule as it did. In other words, Alvarez advised, the Legislature can tell the appellate court to take its opinion and shove it.
As constitutional analysis, Alvarez's opinion is not just malarkey, but malarkey that raises historical memories of South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun's arguments that slave-holding states could ignore federal law because of the invented concepts of "interposition" or "nullification." His theory, widely argued but constitutionally without merit, was that states had the right to interpose themselves between their citizens and unpopular federal rulings.
In defending his position that the General Assembly is free to ignore the federal appeals court ruling, Paul Castiglione, Alvarez's policy director, told legislators that "only the Illinois Supreme Court can declare (an Illinois) statute unconstitutional. I heard someone say that after 180 days our unlawful use of weapons statute is unconstitutional. Not so."
The Illinois Supreme Court does have the final say on the meaning of the Illinois Constitution. But both federal and state courts clearly have long held the authority to declare state laws to be in conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Alvarez's stance is inarguably wrong, but not necessarily a surprise.
She and Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided a few months ago to abandon their official duty to defend a lawsuit challenging state law that limits marriage to a man and a woman on the grounds that it is indefensible. Clearly, politics trumps policy when it is inconvenient.
Castiglione's analysis was so off the wall that legislators were taken aback. That is why they are continuing their efforts to craft legislation that establishes reasonable rules surrounding concealed carry, as the federal appeals court suggested in its ruling striking down the state's ban.
Attorney General Madigan is continuing to appeal the decision. But she lost one of her options Friday when the appeals court rejected her request to hold an en banc appeal before all the circuit's appellate judges. Madigan now will have to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 2-1 decision striking down the ban that was written by Justice Richard Posner.
In the decision, Posner granted the General Assembly 180 days to draft legislation establishing rules surrounding concealed carry. Until Alvarez stepped forward, no one imagined that someone in a responsible position would advocate simply ignoring the ruling and conducting business as usual. But Chicago politicians always have had the capacity to surprise, usually not in a good way.