The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday in a case involving former Illinois House speaker Michael Madigan that it doesn’t have the authority to penalize a politician for unethical actions voters tolerate.
Jason Gonzales contended in a lawsuit that Madigan planted sham candidates on the ballot to ensure he would defeat Gonzales’ challenge in the 2016 Democratic primary.
The Chicago Tribune reports Madigan received 65% of the vote in the primary, and Gonzales received 27%. Two other candidates, whose nominating petitions were taken to Springfield by a Madigan ally, received 6% and 2%.
In a written opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge Frank Easterbrook said Gonzales suspected trickery by Madigan from the start and made it known, and the electorate voted for Madigan anyhow.
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“The effort was hardly necessary, since if every non-Madigan vote had gone to Gonzales, (Madigan) still would have won in a landslide,” Easterbrook noted. “Nonetheless, Gonzales contends, the appearance of two candidates who served only as distractors violated the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Easterbrook wrote the case law Gonzales relied on depended on voters being “hoodwinked,” but Gonzales himself highlighted the allegations of sham candidates in speeches and campaign ads.
“Voters rather than judges must decide when one side has gone overboard,” the judge wrote. “The Constitution does not authorize the judiciary to upset that outcome or to penalize a politician for employing a shady strategy that voters tolerate.”
Plaintiff’s attorney Tony Peraica said he’s disappointed in the appellate ruling because putting up the alleged fake candidates tainted the ballot. Peraica said he is inclined to appeal the decision but will review whether to seek a rehearing.
The appellate court decision is similar to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly. He dismissed Gonzales’ lawsuit, though he said it was undisputed some members of Madigan’s political organization worked to put the two additional candidates on the ballot.
Madigan has denied he had anything to do with putting the additional candidates on the 2016 ballot. Madigan spokeswoman Eileen Boyce did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Madigan, the longest-serving statehouse speaker in the nation’s history, failed to win another term in January under the burden of a lingering sexual harassment scandal in his office and a federal investigation into a years-long Commonwealth Edison bribery scheme involving his allies.
Madigan has denied wrong doing, but gave up the state Democratic Party chairmanship and his House seat earlier this year.