Judge shopping is in the eye of the beholder.
When supermajority Democrats recently passed a law requiring legal challenges to executive orders or new laws to be heard in just two of the state’s 102 counties, they said it was necessary to prevent “judge shopping.”
Republicans opposing the change dismissed that argument, accusing Democrats of favoring the change because it will allow them to engage in judge shopping.
People can choose whatever partisan argument they like best. But for now, those who wish to challenge the legal legitimacy of state action must file their cases either in Sangamon (Springfield) or Cook (Chicago) counties.
One aspect of this debate is undeniable: The litigation filed in various counties to challenge state coronavirus edicts clearly got under the skin of Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
He obviously got tired of his subordinates having to travel to various out-of-their-way counties to carry out their constitutional duty of defending state law in court.
Raoul’s solution was simple – get the Legislature to change the rules in a way that benefits his office.
Now litigants from potentially faraway counties will have to go to him rather than to their home county courthouse.
One non-coronavirus example of this kind of litigation is the current undecided challenge to the state’s SAFE-T Act criminal-justice overhaul.
That case was initially heard in Kankakee County because the local state’s attorney filed his challenge in the county where he was elected.
There’s no question that the judge-shopping charge has some merit, depending on the issue. But there’s also no question that a higher court – the Illinois Supreme Court – has the last word.
Whatever occurs in the trial court, litigants can – and often do – appeal. Any theoretic advantage a local court offers to one litigant or the other quickly vanishes.
The legislation changing the rules reflects Democrats’ control of all three branches of government in Illinois as well as their determination to use that control in a way that benefits them.
When they confront a situation they don’t like – redistricting, legal venues, whatever – they change the rules to a way they do like.
There’s nothing for super-minority Republicans to do but lump it, because they certainly don’t like it.
Everyone should hope that all trial judges, regardless of geography, will rule strictly on the legal merits. That’s what the rule of law is supposed to be about.
The bottom line in this dispute, of course, is whether and how the new rules will benefit Raoul and his party. It depends on the issue and the local judge who draws the assignment.
Perhaps there will be no benefit at all, except for shorter drives for Raoul’s underlings.