RICH MILLER: Welcome to Illinois

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A state law essentially designed to prevent Republicans from appointing legislative candidates to the ballot after the March primary was ruled unconstitutional by a Sangamon County judge last week, but her ruling only applied to the 14 Republican plaintiffs in the case who are running for the Illinois House and Senate.

The law prohibited local party slating of legislative candidates when no candidate had run in the primary. But, as Circuit Judge Gail Noll noted, the bill was passed and signed into law after the 75-day post-primary candidate slating process had already begun. The timing, Judge Noll declared, imposed a “severe restriction on the right to vote,” based on an earlier Illinois Supreme Court precedent. The General Assembly could have passed a bill to stop the practice in future elections, but not in the middle of the process.

A total of 15 Republicans were slated to the ballot and turned in petitions after Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill into law.

Another GOP candidate, Jay Keeven, filed the day before Pritzker signed the legislation. Keeven was widely seen as the target of the law because he is running against Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville). Stuart represents a somewhat swingy district, but she outperformed every statewide Democrat on the ballot in 2022. No statewide Democrat lost the district, but some came close, losing by a fraction of a point (Kwame Raoul and Michael Frerichs). The district is one of the few pickup opportunities the Republicans have this fall.

Another Republican House candidate, Timothy Szymankowski, was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, so the ruling does not yet apply to him. Szymankowski filed to run against Rep. Natalie Manley (D-Joliet).

The law is blatantly unfair and a prime example of super-majority Democratic Party overreach. But it’s extremely unlikely that any of the plaintiffs have even a tiny shot of winning. Gov. JB Pritzker defeated Darren Bailey in the 14 districts covered by the ruling by an average of 47 percentage points.

Most, if not all of these candidates were apparently recruited by the Illinois Policy Institute. And the IPI-affiliated Liberty Justice Center filed the lawsuit.

Let’s go back to Republican House candidate Keeven, who was believed to be the target of the law.

“I got my petition filed before the Senate passed that bill and the governor signed it, so I am on the ballot,” Keeven confidently told the Alton Telegraph last month, not long after Gov. Pritzker signed SB2412 into law.

The House Republicans were also convinced that Keeven’s candidacy would be safe after the law took effect. They had recruited Keeven, a former Edwardsville police chief, to challenge Rep. Stuart, one of the very few possible pickup opportunities they have this year. He was not part of the Liberty Justice Center’s successful lawsuit, but few thought Keeven would need that protection.

However, Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections told me that Keeven could very well be tossed off the ballot when the board meets next month.

Since Keeven wasn’t a plaintiff, Dietrich said, “he’s not going to get the protection if this order stands up,” on appeal. “Keeven could still be objected to based on the new law, and our board could say, ‘Okay, it’s the law.”

But Keeven filed the day before the law took effect, I pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter,” Dietrich said.

But Keeven got in before the law took effect, I again said.

“Yeah, but what does the law say?” he asked. “The law says no one is eligible for the 2024 ballot for the General Assembly unless there was a primary candidate from that party.”

Oh.

He’s right: “However, if there was no candidate for the nomination of the party in the primary,” the new law says about the local slating of legislative candidates, “no candidate of that party for that office may be listed on the ballot at the general election.”

So, the law doesn’t necessarily ban local slating. The statute bans listing those slated candidates on the ballot, which is what the State Board of Elections will decide about Keeven next month. And since Keeven wasn’t part of the lawsuit, he’s not protected from a legal challenge at the board.

If the board tosses Keeven next month, he could always resort to the courts. But Judge Noll’s ruling carries no precedent, so a different judge might possibly rule a different way, unless or until an appellate court steps into the broader case.

Welcome to Illinois.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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