Supreme Court Denies Request From Illinois GOP Seeking to Hold Large Political Rallies

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
July 4, 2020Updated: July 5, 2020

The Supreme Court on July 4 denied an emergency request from Illinois Republicans seeking to block a state measure that bars large gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several Illinois Republican organizations had asked the nation’s top court to intervene after lower courts denied their request to immediately block enforcement of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order that prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people. They argued the governor had been favoring one category of speech over another by providing exemptions to the prohibition to religious gatherings and allowing Black Lives Matter protests but not political gatherings.

The Illinois Republican Party and three local GOP organizations—Will County Republican Central Committee, Schaumberg Township Republican Organization, and Northwest Side GOP Club—were seeking to hold political party events larger than 50 people, including rallies, fundraisers, and a picnic on July 4. They sued Pritzker in mid-June, alleging that the executive order violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Though fighting COVID-19 is doubtless a compelling state interest, the Governor’s policy fails narrow tailoring because it treats similarly situated speakers differently. The First and Fourteenth Amendments both guarantee equal treatment of similar speakers,” the groups wrote in their application to the court (pdf).

“Government may no more favor one particular speaker or category of speech than it may target one for disfavor.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh denied their application without comment.

Joseph Folisi, a committeeman from the Schaumburg Township Republican Organization, said in a statement to The Epoch Times that the group was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are obviously disappointed that we did not receive the temporary injunction we were seeking. Nonetheless, our attorneys are proceeding with the lawsuit and will be filing a motion next week for an expedited briefing schedule in the 7th Circuit on the preliminary injunction,” Folisi said. “We believe that the Governor’s orders are a significant infringement of our First Amendment rights and that we will prevail in our lawsuit.”

The other plaintiffs in the case, the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and Pritzker’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

On July 2, Judge Sara L. Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied the Republican groups’ request (pdf) saying that the “plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits is less than negligible and the balance of harms weighs heavily against plaintiff.” This prompted the group to appeal the case to the 7th Circuit, which upheld the lower court’s decision.

“If 100 Democrats or 100 Republicans gather and 10 get infected, those 10 may go home and infect a local shopkeeper, a local grocery-store worker, their postal carrier, or their grandmother—someone who had no interest in the earlier gathering,” the judges on the 7th Circuit wrote in their opinion (pdf), when addressing the issue of balance of harms.

“Thus, the balance of harms in this instance strongly favors the governor.”