U.S. Justice Department backs lawsuit challenging Illinois coronavirus restrictions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Friday weighed in on a legal challenge brought against Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker's coronavirus stay-at-home orders, filing a statement of interest in federal court in support of the lawsuit.

The U.S. Justice Department filing raised objections to the Democratic governor's action on Thursday removing the case against him from state court, where it was filed by Republican state Representative Darren Bailey, to a federal court.

A similar lawsuit filed in state court against Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and his top public health officer led to a state Supreme Court ruling last week invalidating their stay-at-home orders altogether.

The Justice Department said its filing was part of Attorney General William Barr's initiative in late April directing his civil rights division and a U.S. attorney in Michigan to review state and local government policies related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bailey said in his lawsuit that Pritzker's actions restricting social gatherings and business activity are not authorized under state law because they extend beyond the 30-day time period imposed by the Illinois legislature for the exercise of such emergency powers.

A hearing on a motion filed by Bailey seeking summary judgment in his case had been scheduled to take place on Thursday, but Pritzker instead moved the case to federal court, the department said.

The statement of interest asserts that the dispute rightfully belongs in Illinois state court.

"The governor of Illinois owes it to the people of Illinois to allow his state's courts to adjudicate the question of whether Illinois law authorizes orders he issued to respond to COVID-19," said Eric Dreiband, assistant U.S. attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)

05/22/2020 22:49

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