County denounces ‘pure political move’

Betty Q. Hixson

EDWARDSVILLE – Legal action against a new state law creating judicial subdistricts in Madison County could be filed within a week, according to Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine.

At a special meeting Thursday the county board voted overwhelmingly to condemn the state law signed Jan. 7 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and authorized Haine’s office to consider legal action.

The board voted 21-2 for the resolution, with Jack Minner, D-Alton, and Victor Valentine, D-Edwardsville, the only no votes. Five members were absent.

Haine said his office will research how the law could be challenged and may bring in outside legal counsel. The county may challenge several specific parts of the bill that appear to target Madison County and take effect immediately.

“I think there may be a viable lawsuit because of the short time-frame,” Haine said, adding it might not impact the rest of the state.

The bill, which was amended and passed within hours on Jan. 5 by both houses of the General Assembly, required candidates for one of the new Madison County subcircuits to begin circulating nominating petitions Thursday, Jan. 13.

Current judges Amy Sholar and Christopher Threlkeld, both Republicans, had previously announced they would seek retention in the November election that originally included the entire circuit. Because of the new law, both have established new residencies within a week inside the newly created Subcircuit 1, a heavily Democratic region. 

Many county board members on Thursday expressed outrage at the law.

“The ability to choose our judges was literally stolen in the dead of night,” said county board member Erica Conway-Harriss, R-Glen Carbon, who participated via telephone. “This reeks of everything that voters hate about politics.”

Mike Babcock, R-Bethalto, said the state law specifically targets two sitting Republican judges. He said values are shifting in the county and becoming more conservative, adding it was “shameful what they (lawmakers) are doing to Madison County.”

The new law creates four judicial subcircuits in the third Judicial Circuit, which includes Madison and Bond counties, effective immediately. It also creates, 2024, new subcircuits in the 7th Circuit which includes Morgan, Sangamon, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin and Scott counties, and in the circuit serving DuPage County. The bill also changes subcircuits in Cook, Kane, McHenry and Will counties.

“This is a pure political move by certain people,” said Mike Walters, R-Godfrey and chairman of the board’s Judiciary Committee.

A common refrain among board members was that the new law disenfranchises two-thirds of the circuit’s voters in the next judicial election, which is the June primary. Several board members also noted that, under the new law, some voters may not get to vote in a judicial race until 2030 – and because the subcircuits will be revisited at that time, they could possibly not vote then.

Many board members complained nobody sought the opinions of local judges or other court officials their opinion,.

“Not one judge was contacted, including (Chief Circuit Judge William) Mudge who is a Democrat,” said Walters. “Where I live we won’t get to vote until 2030.”

The only county board member to question the resolution was Bill Stoutenborough, D-Alton. His primary concern was how much a legal challenge could cost and the chances for success. He later voted in favor of the resolution.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Glen Carbon, and state Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Edwardsville, were criticized for voting in favor of the bill. Both were asked to attend Thursday’s meeting. Crowe sent a representative who did not speak; Stuart did not attend. State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, also declined to attend, according to Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler.

State Rep. Amy Elik, R-Fosterburg, and Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, did attend the meeting. Both were very critical of the new law and how it was passed.

“It’s even worse than we thought,” Elik said.

Plummer, a member of the Senate’s Redistricting Committee, said it was never discussed in committee. He questioned who wrote the bill and created the maps.

“This is a complete overreach by one branch of government to another branch,” he said, adding that it is “not supposed to work like this.”

The bill originally dealt with court security; it was introduced in the House in February 2021 by Stuart and originally sponsored in the Senate by Crowe. On Jan. 5 it was amended by Illinois Senate President Dan Harmon, D-Oak Park, before being approved along party lines.

Madison County Democratic Party Chairman Randy Harris on Friday blasted Republicans for “fake outrage.”

He said the new judicial subcircuits creates more representation for some areas of the county, adding that “not one elected circuit judge currently lives within one of the newly created subcircuits.

“It’s not a coincidence that this Republican-led effort to disenfranchise an area of the county is made up of working-class, union, and minority voters,” he said. “Basically, the Republicans don’t think the voters of Alton, Granite City, Wood River, East Alton, Pontoon Beach, Madison and Venice deserve a voice on the judiciary and are going to do everything in their power to stop it.”

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