Two justices on the Illinois Supreme Court refused to recuse themselves from a case challenging Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's gun ban despite having received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Pritzker and another defendant.
The Supreme Court is set to hear state representative Dan Caulkins's (R.) challenge to Illinois's ban on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, which Pritzker signed into law in January. Caulkins's attorney, Jerry Stocks, filed a motion late last month to disqualify Justices Elizabeth Rochford and Mary O'Brien from the case, arguing that the judges' "unreasonably large campaign contributions" from Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch (D.)—key defendants in the case—"undermine public confidence" in the judiciary.
Pritzker gave $1 million each to Rochford and O'Brien during their November 2022 campaigns. The justices also received "six-figure donations" out of a campaign fund controlled by Welch, Just the News reported. On Friday, both justices gave formal statements explaining why they refused to recuse themselves.
"That contributors to my campaign committee might appear as counsel or parties before this court does not require my recusal from this case," Rochford said Friday. "Our supreme court rules specifically allow a judicial candidate's campaign committee to solicit and accept reasonable campaign contributions and public support from lawyers."
Rochford further said previous precedent "cautioned that courts must consider whether attacks on a judge's impartiality are 'simply subterfuge to circumvent anticipated adverse rulings.'"
Illinois appealed a Macon County judge's ruling that the gun ban was unconstitutional, bringing the case before the State Supreme Court. The hearing is set for mid-May.
"The optics don't look very good," state representative Brad Halbrook (R.) said. "This just lessens the trust that people place in government and the judiciary."
Pritzker's gun ban will likely face more legal battles in the near future, as the Illinois State Rifle Association and other groups have said they intend to sue. Dan Eldridge, a board member at the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois, said the law is "not going to last." More than two dozen sheriffs said they will not enforce the law.