Gov. J.B. Pritzker ‘comfortable and confident’ cashless bail is constitutional despite court ruling to contrary

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that he is “comfortable and confident” a state law ending cash bail that was set to take effect New Year’s Day is constitutional despite a court ruling to the contrary, but that supporters will “come back at it” if the lower court ruling stands.

Speaking at an unrelated event in Chicago, the governor made his first public comments on the issue since a Kankakee County judge on Dec. 28 ruled that the Pretrial Fairness Act, which was to end cash bail as of Jan. 1, was in violation of the Illinois Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court on New Year’s Eve stopped the act from going into effect statewide amid confusion over how widely the lower court’s ruling would apply.

“I’m disappointed that there’s a delay in the implementation,” Pritzker said. “Justice shouldn’t be delayed.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is joined by lawmakers and community advocates as he speaks after signing HB 3653, a sweeping criminal justice and police reform bill, on Feb. 22, 2021 at Chicago State University.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is joined by lawmakers and community advocates as he speaks after signing HB 3653, a sweeping criminal justice and police reform bill, on Feb. 22, 2021 at Chicago State University. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Supporters of the Pretrial Fairness Act — part of the sweeping criminal justice overhaul called the SAFE-T Act that the Democratic governor signed nearly two years ago — have argued that eliminating money as a factor in deciding whether someone awaiting trial is released would reduce racial and economic disparities in the courts while also preventing people charged with violent crimes from pay for their release.

“We want our neighborhoods to be safer, and putting the Pretrial Fairness Act into effect will make our neighborhoods safer,” Pritzker said.

The state Supreme Court said it would expedite Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s appeal of the lower court ruling, but as of Wednesday had yet to set a schedule for hearing the matter.

Pritzker on Wednesday said he anticipates a decision “sometime in the next few months.”

While the governor said he and the lawmakers who voted for the law believe it is constitutional, they will “come back at it” if the high court rules otherwise.

“The whole purpose here is fairness, and I think that we will continue to fight for that,” Pritzker said. “Those of us who believe in this know that there’s even more work to do.”

The Dec. 28 ruling from Kankakee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cunnington came in a case that consolidated legal challenges brought this fall by more than 60 of Illinois’ 102 state’s attorneys.

Cunnington found that the provisions eliminating cash bail and other changes to the pretrial process violated the separation of powers clause in the state constitution by interfering with the judiciary’s ability to set bail, among other issues.

The ruling aligned with some arguments that opponents of the law, largely Republicans, made during the fall campaign season.

Cunnington’s decision only applied to the counties that had sued the state. But after the ruling was issued prosecutors in other jurisdictions sought temporary restraining orders to block the law from taking effect, even as Cook County and other jurisdictions were prepared to launch the new system with the start of the new year.

The Supreme Court said in its order that it was suspending implementation to “maintain consistent pretrial procedures throughout Illinois.”

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

Chi,Feeds,Chi Trib,City: Chicago

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January 4, 2023 at 01:24PM

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