Eye On Illinois: Reading Supreme Court opinions worth your time, effort

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Lots of legal writing is thick, bordering on impenetrable to the average Illinoisan. But when it comes to state Supreme Court opinions, reading can deliver a sense of what’s to come in Springfield.

Consider two longstanding cases, one concerning the Firearm Owner Identification program and another about property rights and river access. I wrote about each issue following oral arguments in late March; the court issued rulings on both Thursday.

In a 4-3 opinion, the majority focused on legal procedure to avoid directly ruling on the constitutionality of the FOID program.

The underlying issue is a ruling from White County Judge T. Scott Webb, who agreed with Vivian Brown’s challenge to her conviction of illegal possession of a gun. Brown had a rifle in her home but not an FOID card, although she was eligible to obtain the document.

“This is the second time this case has come before us on direct appeal,” Chief Justice Anne Burke wrote in her summary. She noted her panel already vacated a judgment and remanded the case with directions for a specific order. “On remand, however, the circuit court concluded it would not be in the ‘best interests of justice’ to follow this court’s directions and entered a different order. Because the circuit court had no authority to set aside the directions of this court and enter a different order, we must again vacate and remand.”

This opinion is worth reading for its dissent, from Justice Michael Burke (no relation) who blasted the majority for refusing to consider the appeal on its merits. He wrote Judge Webb “did absolutely nothing wrong” in reconsidering a ruling it found legally erroneous and essentially forced Brown to take a position she didn’t choose, would lose on appeal and might delay – by years – a final resolution.

The case, he estimated, is due back before the Supreme Court eventually, which means unless lawmakers make substantial FOID changes, the top court ultimately will have to decide if the state can justify the program as a check on Second Amendment rights.

An addendum also is the best part of the ruling on a dispute between Grundy County landowners regarding what constitutes private property when it comes to kayaking on the Mazon River. Though the court was unanimous in its overall ruling, Justice P. Scott Neville wrote a special concurrence, joined by Chief Justice Burke.

Neville directly encouraged lawmakers “to promulgate legislation so that the state’s non-navigable lakes, rivers and streams are not limited to use by riparian landowners but are available to the public for recreational use.”

Such a change would align Illinois with many other states. Expect boating enthusiasts to take Neville’s words directly to lawmakers – and to meet resistance.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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June 21, 2022 at 07:09AM

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