Much Ado About Little: Deadlocked Illinois Supreme Court Punts on Red Light Camera Ordinances

One of the most widely anticipated cases on the Illinois Supreme Court’s civil docket ended on Thursday morning with a surprise: the Court decided not to decide, dismissing the appeal in a per curiam order.

Keating v. City of Chicago was a constitutional challenge to the validity of Chicago’s red light camera ordinance. Our detailed report on the underlying facts and lower court orders is here. Our report on the oral argument is here.

Article VI, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution requires that the Supreme Court must have the concurrence of four Justices in order to hand down a decision in any case. The problem in Keating was that by the time of the decision, two Justices, Justice Anne Burke and Justice Lloyd Karmeier, had recused themselves, leaving a five-Justice Court. And the remaining Justices were split on the case three to two. So the Court did the only thing it could – it tossed the appeal.

Although deadlocks are relatively rare, they’re not unheard of at the Court. The most recent one on the Court’s civil docket was Vill v. Industrial Commissionin 2005. There were two more in 2004, South 51 Development Corp. v. Vega and Commerce Bank v. Youth Services of Mid-Illinois.

Nevertheless, the non-result in Keating raises the question of whether Illinois should have a mechanism available to appoint pro tem Justices when one or more Justices have recused themselves. In California, Article VI, Section 6 of the state Constitution provides such a mechanism – the Chief Justice is empowered to reassign Court of Appeal Justices to the Supreme Court as pro tems. The Court maintains a list of active Court of Appeal Justices, and pro tem appointments rotate alphabetically, each Justice sitting for one case. It’s a familiar system in California; since the Governor appoints new Justices when one retires, vacancies are not especially rare (indeed, Justice Joyce Kennard retired in April and no replacement has been nominated).

So, readers – do you think Illinois should have a similar system? Should single-case vacancies be filled in some other way? Or is the current system for the best?

Image courtesy of Flickr by R/DV/RS (no changes).