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Appeals court says term limits can't be on ballot

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 11:27 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Proponents of term limits for Illinois lawmakers were preparing a last-minute appeal to the state Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled Wednesday that a measure asking voters to approve such a proposal could not appear on the November ballot.

Mark Campbell, director of The Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits, said the group’s legal team was “working feverishly” and planned to submit its appeal to the high court late Wednesday or early Thursday. The group hopes the justices will intervene before a state Board of Elections meeting Friday in which the ballot will be finalized.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor said the group had not filed a required petition with the court. “There has to be a ... motion to expedite the matter,” he said.

The pro-term limits group, chaired by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, also could request that the court direct the elections board to suspend the ballot certification process.

Rauner’s group insists the measure would be overwhelmingly approved by voters. It would limit legislators to eight years in office, increase the size of the Illinois House, reduce the size of the Senate and make it tougher for the Legislature to override a governor’s veto.

But on Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate Court in Chicago affirmed a Cook County judge’s June decision that the measure is unconstitutional, noting in its 15-page decision that the initiative violated specific provisions of the Illinois Constitution.

The initiative, the court says, does not adequately satisfy a constitutional requirement that changes to the Legislature be “structural and procedural.”

The court noted that it also violates a clause of the constitution by combining “separate and unrelated questions in one referendum,” noting there isn’t an adequate relationship between limiting the terms of lawmakers and setting a threshold to override the governor’s veto.

The committee gathered about 600,000 signatures for the proposed ballot measure. Rauner has seized on the measure as part of his attacks on “career politicians.” Critics see it as an attempt to drive up friendly turnout in his campaign against incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Attorneys with ties to top Democrats, including longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, sued this spring to keep the question off the ballot. Arguing on behalf of several business groups, they say taxpayer money shouldn’t be spent on a measure that is clearly unconstitutional.

Cook County Judge Mary Mikva agreed in late June, saying the question didn’t meet the “structural and procedural” requirement. The Supreme Court refused a request at that time to directly take up the issue, bypassing the appellate court.

Rauner said in a statement Thursday that he remained “hopeful” the Supreme Court would rule in the committee’s favor. He argued that the amendment was “carefully crafted to meet all the requirements that the Illinois Supreme Court very clearly laid out” in a 1994 decision rejecting a term-limits initiative that year.

That measure was advocated by Quinn, who has criticized Rauner for being a late-comer to those advocating term limits. Quinn says he doesn’t support Rauner’s measure because of the changes it would make to the size of the House. Quinn led a voter initiative in 1980 that reduced the number of state representatives.

Advocates also point to the geographic diversity of the Supreme Court as a potential reason why the court might rule in its favor. They have noted that both earlier decisions were made by judges in heavily Democratic Cook County.

“The only court that is capable of modifying a decision they made in 1994 is the Supreme Court,” Campbell said.

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