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County panel approves judicial subcircuit referendum

EDWARDSVILLE — The Madison County’s Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved placing an advisory referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot dealing with the subdivision of the 3rd Judicial Circuit.

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine, who has been fighting the issue in the courts, presented the resolution which was approved with little discussion. The full county board must approve the plan for the referendum to appear on the November ballot.

“It has no binding effect, but it allows people to voice an opinion,” Haine said.

This spring Illinois modified judicial subcircuits in Cook County and creating subcircuits in some downstate counties, including Madison County. While the law does not impact other judicial circuits until the 2024 election cycle, it singled out Madison County for implementation in the 2022 election cycle. The primary, including three 3rd Circuit Judicial races, was Tuesday.

At last week’s committee meeting, Madison County Board Member Mike Babcock, R-Bethalto, asked if the proposed referendum would “fix the problem.” Haine compared the referendum to a Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution county voters passed in November 2018.

On Tuesday, judicial candidates in four primary races were unopposed; candidates in two, both Democrats, ran as write-ins. The unopposed candidates will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot; the two write-ins must wait until the results are officially counted to see if they received enough votes to qualify for the ballot.

The new state law also set up a system where the first three judges elected must come from one subcircuit, which is heavily Democratic; then then next three from a second subcircuit, which is split. The third subcircuit, more heavily Republican, will only have two judges and residents would be unable to vote in a judicial race for about 10 years, according to county officials.

The Illinois law was criticized as being highly partisan and hastily done with limited chance for debate.

The original bill was introduced February 2021 by state Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville and sponsored by former state Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, who has left the state legislature to become a US Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois. On Jan. 5 the bill was amended by Senate President Dan Harmon, D-Oak Park, completely throwing out the old language and inserting the new proposal.

The bill was approved along party lines and signed two days later by Gov. JB Pritzker.

In February a circuit court judge in Sangamon County initially granted a temporary restraining order halting implementation of the law, but later ruled against the county and other plaintiffs. Oral arguments on an appeal of that ruling were heard June 22 in the 4th District Appellate Court. The case is still pending.

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