The multiple legal challenges to Illinois’ recently enacted ban on so-called assault weapons and “large capacity” magazines are taking place in both federal and state court, and while we’re waiting on a decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the federal challenges, the state Supreme Court in Illinois has now released its own opinion in a case brought by Illinois state Rep. Dan Caulkins. To the surprise of few gun owners, the Democrat-controlled court reversed the lower court decision finding the ban violated the equal protection and special legislation clauses of the state constitution, maintaining instead that the ban that went into effect earlier this year is perfectly acceptable under the state constitution.
Today’s opinion was delivered by Justice Elizabeth Rochford, who has a history of palling around with anti-gun groups like Moms Demand Action.
Holy crap Illinois Supreme Court justice Elizabeth Rochford (@JudgeRochford) who is under fire for not recusing from the hi-profile gun ban case in which her donors are defendants (and was endorsed by GC groups), has deleted her Twitter account. Don’t worry, we got screenshots pic.twitter.com/rpMNNod7yZ
— President Non_Fudd (@Non_Fudd) August 11, 2023
Coincidentally (or not), the IL Supreme Court’s decision also comes the very same day that Kamala Harris is in Chicago speaking to Everytown activists, which was another indication of how today’s ruling was going to come down, as the Illinois State Rifle Association pointed out shortly before the opinion was released.
— Illinois State Rifle Association (@ISRA) August 11, 2023
Notably, today’s decision doesn’t address the Second Amendment questions surrounding the gun and magazine ban, arguing that the plaintiffs “expressly waived in the circuit court any independent claim that the restrictions impermissibly infringe the second amendment.” Instead, Rochford’s opinion focuses exclusively on the argument that the gun and magazine ban violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution, and that the legislation should be considered null and void because it violated the state’s “three reading” rule for legislation.
Writing for the majority, Rochford contends that the equal protection clause wasn’t violated because “Plaintiffs are not similarly situated to the trained professionals. To the extent plaintiffs claim they possess restricted items, they are not treated differently from the grandfathered individuals. To the extent plaintiffs claim they do not possess restricted items, they are dissimilar to the grandfathered individuals, who have a reliance interest in retaining them.” As for violating the “three-reading” rule, Rochford says that the plaintiffs’ “failure to cross-appeal from the denial of relief under count II bars them from renewing their three-readings claim here”; a notion disputed in two dissents to the majority opinion, including Justice Holder White.
In light of the circuit court’s favorable ruling on the threereadings rule, they had no reason to raise the issue in their initial brief. Plaintiffs, however, did raise this issue in their responsive brief, arguing the violation of the three-readings rule presented an independent basis in the record to affirm the circuit court’s judgment. In their reply brief, defendants argued there was no violation of the three-readings rule and the enrolled-bill doctrine foreclosed plaintiffs’ challenge. Defendants also addressed the three-readings rule and the enrolled-bill doctrine in their oral argument to this court.
The majority says the circuit court invalidated certain sections of the Protect Illinois Communities Act (Act) (see Pub. Act 102-1116 (eff. Jan. 10, 2023)) and upheld others and thus contends the three-readings-rule issue is not now before us because plaintiffs should have cross-appealed from the denial of relief on that claim. However, plaintiffs are properly before this court, and both parties have had ample opportunity to address the procedural requirements of the Illinois Constitution and their impact on the validity of the Act here. Moreover, if the invalidated sections are before us (by way of the State’s appeal), then a finding of a three-readings-rule violation on those sections (as we may affirm on any basis in the record) requires a similar finding as to the entire Act because the Act was passed as one. Thus, I would find the long-standing principle cited above in Ultsch and numerous other cases allows us to consider the three-readings issue.
As the ISRA pointed out, with the Illinois Supreme Court decision now released the plaintiffs are likely to turn to the federal courts for relief. In fact, the lawsuit filed by Caulkins could leapfrog several federal lawsuits challenging “assault weapons” bans in states like Maryland and California, which are still stuck in the lower courts. Caulkins can now take his appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, and this time attorneys won’t be asking the Court to intercede on an emergency basis.
I think we probably have the four votes necessary for SCOTUS to grant cert to a case dealing with bans on “assault weapons”, but that doesn’t mean that this will be the vehicle the Court uses to determine the constitutionality of bans on commonly-owned arms, especially since the Illinois Supreme Court declined to review the law in question on Second Amendment grounds. The U.S. Supreme Court justices have a lot of options available if they want to hear an “assault weapons” ban challenge; they may decide to hold off and see what the Fourth Circuit does with Bianchi v. Brown (which was heard back in December of last year), wait for the Seventh Circuit’s decision to come down, or take Caulkins v. Pritzker once cert is requested. There’s also a possibility of combining one or more of these cases depending on the timing of the Fourth and Seventh Circuit decision, so it’s difficult to predict what path, if any, the Court will take to addressing these gun grabs, but regardless of today’s state Supreme Court ruling SCOTUS will ultimately have the final word on whether the government can ban some of the most commonly-owned arms in the nation.