How Does the Illinois Constitution Stack Up?
When it comes to limited government, state constitution ranks in the bottom ten of nationwide assessment.
Download the full report here (PDF).
In an era of burgeoning federal government power, state constitutions are full of untapped potential; many provide stronger protection of individual freedoms than the federal constitution. But realizing that potential requires recognizing its existence and assessing which state constitutions offer the best opportunities for securing the principles of limited government.
“50 Bright Stars: An Assessment of Each State’s Constitutional Commitment to Limited Government,” a report released by the Goldwater Institute in September 2009, ranks each state’s constitutional commitment to limited government—a government that secures individual liberty, disclaims unlimited power and guarantees fiscal responsibility.
Among all states, Illinois tied with California and Washington state for 26th place in an overall assessment of the strength of state constitutions. Goldwater’s rankings are based on each state’s commitment to principles of limited government in state court under its state constitution, as currently interpreted, relative to the federal government’s constitutional commitment to limited government in federal court under the U.S. constitution, as currently interpreted (the “federal baseline”). Because of ties in the assessment scores, this placed Illinois in the bottom 10 of all states. This relatively low ranking was largely due to the adverse judicial environment for limited government constitutional law in Illinois state court.
The Goldwater Institute has identified Illinois’s relevant constitutional provisions, along with leading court cases to provide a launching point for more research.
Using primary sources, law review articles, constitutional treatises, and relevant case law, each state’s constitution was reviewed for specific textual provisions falling into 10 categories: Free Speech, Property rights, Substantive Due Process, Equal Protection, General Negative Individual Rights, Contracts Clause, Structural Government Restrictions, Subsidy Restrictions, Other Fiscal Restraints and Taxpayer Standing.
The report also assessed the state’s judicial environment for receptivity to limited government constitutional law, using the categories of judicial quality and philosophy. Download the full report and see the chart to find out how our state is doing.
The report shows Illinois’s constitution offers a reasonable degree of security for principles of limited government both textually and in many court decisions. Illinois’s low ranking is primarily due to its adverse judicial environment. The competency and impartiality of the Illinois state judiciary was among the lowest ranked of all 50 states in a scientific survey published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2007—only Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia ranked lower. The security of liberty in Illinois will improve only if the quality of the state judiciary is improved, together with the election of judges who are more receptive to the principles of limited government found in the state constitution.
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