SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Nearly two-thirds of the counties in the state will not be eliminating cash bail on January 1st.
Kankakee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cunnington sided with state’s attorneys Wednesday night, ruling that the cash bail provisions of the SAFE-T Act are unconstitutional.
The state is appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court. Supporters of the SAFE-T Act are confident the Illinois Supreme Court will overturn the ruling, and cash bail will eventually be eliminated.
“While I am disappointed in the decision by the plaintiffs’ preferred trial court, I remain confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal,” House Speaker Emmanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) said in a statement.
The appeal process could take some time, and in the mean time, the ruling is causing confusion for the 37 counties that were not involved in the suit.
Cunnington refused to issue an injunction along with his ruling, meaning the 37 counties are not bound to his ruling. They can, however, still decide to delay the elimination of cash bail and side with Cunnington’s decision.
Some, like Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos decided to follow the ruling and cease implementation of the Pre-Trial Fairness Act.
“Although Peoria County did not participate in this ruling, we are required to follow it,” Hoos announced Thursday. “When a statute is unconstitutional, the statute becomes invalid and has no force or effect on anyone. As a result, and until the Illinois Supreme Court provides further clarification, we will abide by this ruling and not implement the new bail reform.”
Champaign County was also not involved in the suit. They will be eliminating cash bail January 1st, unless the Supreme Court tells the county to do otherwise. Cook County will also implement the SAFE-T Act on day one.
Several advocacy groups and politicians across the state responded to Cunnington’s ruling by saying it’s only a matter of time before it gets overturned.
“It’s frustrating, but ultimately, it’s a setback that we that we believe will be rectified by the Supreme Court,” Sarah Staudt, Director of Policy at Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts said. “You know, we’ve known for a long time that these lawsuits are pending, they picked a forum, you know, they picked Kankakee County. Basically, that was a place that was very friendly to the arguments that the State’s Attorneys and sheriffs were making here. But ultimately, those arguments don’t hold any water.”
Republican leadership, who have been opposed to the SAFE-T Act since it originally passed the legislature almost two years ago, celebrated Cunnington’s ruling, arguing Illinois is safer with cash bail.
“This law would have severely limited the ability of judges and prosecutors to keep dangerous criminals off of the streets thereby exporting the epidemic of lawlessness we’ve seen in certain parts of Chicago throughout the rest of our state,” Illinois Republican Party chair Don Tracy said. “The Circuit Court ruling which rightly declared it unconstitutional is a win for public safety, and the businesses and residents of Illinois, if upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.”
Outgoing House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) has repeatedly criticized the law for shutting out Republican criticism and echoed the sentiment in a news conference Thursday morning.
“It would be in the not only the plaintiffs’ and the defendants’ best interest, but also the people that the state of Illinois to begin this process over again, not to have a negotiation between advocates for keep noncash bail, but to have actual stakeholders who are going to represent the different people who are involved in the system,” Durkin said. “These negotiations that went on over the past year, were behind closed doors and it was cherry picked individuals who were part of it who did not reflect the men and women who are going to be directly affected by this.”
Democratic lawmakers are largely not surprised by the ruling.
“We knew this legal fight was inevitable and look forward to the Illinois Supreme Court’s review and more statewide perspective,” Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said.
Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago), one of the lead legislators on the SAFE-T Act, is confident the Supreme Court will overturn the decision.
“When you make systemic, civil rights-level changes, there are bound to be people who will do whatever to stop it,” Peters said. “We have fought to ensure that all Illinoisans are treated fairly in the criminal justice system and able to exercise their rights under the SAFE-T Act and the Illinois Constitution. The fight continues.”