* Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals…
In 1972 a federal district court entered the first of many consent decrees preventing the Governor of Illinois and units of local government from conditioning employment decisions on political patronage. And so were born the Shakman decrees. The Governor remains subject to the original 1972 decree to this day—50 years later—despite having demonstrated substantial compliance with its terms and objectives in recent years. Principles of federalism do not permit a federal court to oversee the Governor’s employment practices for decades on end in circumstances like this. The power to hire, fire, and establish accompanying policies needs to return to the people of Illinois and the Governor they elected. The federal courts will remain open to decide individual cases of alleged constitutional violations should they arise. But no longer shall the Governor’s employment practices and policies have to win the approval of a United States court. […]
Eight gubernatorial administrations have come and gone in Illinois since the initiation of this lawsuit. Yet the same named plaintiffs that brought the original suit in 1969 continue to prosecute enforcement of the decree under the district court’s watch and, more recently, the eyes of a special master. It is far from clear this arrangement comports with the Supreme Court’s emphasis in recent years on separation of powers and the related demands imposed by Article III for establishing and maintaining a Case or Controversy. See Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560–63. The proper equitable analysis of whether the Governor should remain under the 1972 decree requires us “to recognize that the longer an injunction or consent decree stays in place, the greater the risk that it will improperly interfere with a State’s democratic processes.” Horne, 557 U.S. at 453.
No longer is the Shakman decree’s enforcement necessary to protect the First Amendment rights of state employees and job applicants as declared in Elrod and Rutan. Rather, its continued application has put a federal court in a role tantamount to serving as an indefinite institutional monitor—not much different than an executive or legislative branch oversight agency—focused much more on ensuring that the Governor implements best practices rather than eliminates “an ongoing violation of federal law.” Horne, 557 U.S. at 454. This is antithetical to the limited role the Constitution created for the Third Branch: Article III does not “confer on federal judges some amorphous power to supervise the operations of government and reimagine from the ground up” the employment practices of Illinois. Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, 142 S. Ct. 522, 532 (2021) (cleaned up).
Be careful not to misread our conclusion. The district court is not closing. To the contrary, it will remain open and receptive to individual claims brought by persons able to allege concrete and particularized injuries as a result of unlawful patronage practices by the Governor or departments under his supervision. And nothing will prevent such plaintiffs from requesting not just money damages, but also appropriate injunctive relief. So, while today’s decision relieves the Governor of complying with the Shakman decree, the First Amendment remains alive and well. Future violations of the rules announced in Elrod and Rutan may see new plaintiffs bringing new cases requesting new and stiff remedies, all the while emphasizing the tragic history that led to the Shakman decrees.
We REVERSE the district court’s denial of the motion to vacate and its expansion of the special master’s duties and REMAND with instructions to VACATE the 1972 consent decree as it applies to the Governor of Illinois.
…Adding… Also from the decision…
Second, the Governor has instituted or otherwise supported several remedial measures in recent years (under the special master’s and district court’s supervision, to be sure) to minimize the risk of political patronage in employment practices. Beyond the development of a Comprehensive Employment Plan, the state now has in place the Hiring & Employment Monitoring Division within the Office of Inspector General and a limited Rutan exempt list, among other things. That many of these measures have remained in place for several years with no findings of constitutional violations in or across individual employment decisions speaks to the stability of the state’s, and by extension, the Governor’s reform measures. Shakman and Lurie, to their credit, candidly acknowledge the Governor’s progress in recent years. And, for her part, the special master has on more than one occasion commended the Governor’s efforts to comply with the decree, including by describing his accomplishments as “extraordinary,” “notable,” and “significant.”
All of this is enough, we believe, for the Governor to show that he has implemented a durable remedy and satisfied the objectives of the 1972 decree.
*** UPDATE *** From the governor’s office…
The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered the lower court to vacate the 1972 Shakman Consent Decree, citing Governor Pritzker’s significant progress “instituting and supporting several remedial measures in recent years to minimize the risk of political patronage in employment practices.” The ruling acknowledges that the administration has instituted long-term policies and procedures that will ensure “compliance sticks.” This ruling means the state will no longer be under federal court supervision related to hiring practices, saving taxpayer dollars and ensuring state government can better serve the people.
“I’m gratified that the Court recognized my commitment to hiring practices that fully live up to the principles of the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions,” said Gov. JB Pritzker. “From the time that I took office, my administration has worked to strengthen the state’s hiring practices and ensure that we have durable, lasting reforms in place so that the state can guard against unethical hiring practices now and in the long term. With the end of this 1972 decree and the enormous work required by the ongoing federal monitoring, the State can focus our efforts on ensuring effective and efficient hiring that allows us to better fulfill our obligations to the people of Illinois.”
Highlights from the federal ruling:
“Leaving the Governor subject to the 1972 decree is no longer warranted or tolerable. Governor Pritzker has demonstrated substantial compliance with the decree and identified and instituted durable remedies to help ensure that compliance sticks. He has earned the right to make employment decisions for the state on his own and not under the terms and conditions of the 1972 decree or the watchful eyes of a special master and federal court.”
“The Governor has instituted or otherwise supported several remedial measures in recent years (under the special master’s and district court’s supervision, to be sure) to minimize the risk of political patronage in employment practices. Beyond the development of a Comprehensive Employment Plan, the state now has in place the Hiring & Employment Monitoring Division within the Office of Inspector General and a limited Rutan exempt list, among other things. That many of these measures have remained in place for several years with no findings of constitutional violations in or across individual employment decisions speaks to the stability of the state’s, and by extension, the Governor’s reform measures. Shakman and Lurie, to their credit, candidly acknowledge the Governor’s progress in recent years. And, for her part, the special master has on more than one occasion commended the Governor’s efforts to comply with the decree, including by describing his accomplishments as ‘extraordinary,’ ‘notable,’ and ‘significant.’
“All of this is enough, we believe, for the Governor to show that he has implemented a durable remedy and satisfied the objectives of the 1972 decree.”
“As we see the record, everyone involved in recent years— foremost Governor Pritzker, but also the special master, the district court, and Michael Shakman and Paul Lurie (and their talented counsel)—has been diligent in ensuring the state’s substantial compliance with the 1972 decree. This is what is supposed to happen in institutional reform litigation, even if it is coming many, many years too late. We see nothing more for the district court to do. The Governor has satisfied the objectives of the consent decree.”
…Adding… Important context for the people freaking out…
Cook County in 2018 was removed from the constraints of the Shakman decree, with Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier finding the county to be in “substantial compliance” with fair hiring and employment practices. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had argued that since 2006, the Shakman suit had cost county taxpayers around $8 million. Around $3 million of that went to claims from employees who said patronage played a role in them advancing in their careers.
A federal judge in 2014 released Chicago from the consent decree. Since 1972, Chicago taxpayers had spent $22.9 million to create a $12 million fund created to compensate victims of the city’s rigged hiring system; $6.6 million for the hiring monitor; $1.8 million for consultants; $1.5 million for plaintiff’s counsel; and $1 million to outside counsel.