Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana has decided, again, not to do his public job because of his personal opinion. (See Facebook post here. He previously defied the the law during the early days of the COVID pandemic by stating his department would not enforce public health guidelines.) Caruana has joined other right-wing sheriffs across Illinois and publicly announced his department will not abide by the Constitution by enforcing the law, specifically the terms of the Protect Illinois Communities Act.
WIFR - Illinois sheriffs say they will not enforce law requiring gun owners to register ‘assault weapons’ An important part of the US Constitution is separation of powers - a sheriff doesn't get to decide if a law is unconstitutional, the court does. If he thinks the law is unconstitutional then he must follow the civilized legal process of filing a lawsuit in court. Caruana doesn't get to appoint himself legislator, executive and judge of laws he doesn't like as if Winnebago County is his personal fiefdom. Until a law is enjoined or overturned by a court, Caruana has a constitutional responsibility to enforce the law (even laws he doesn't like). If he doesn't understand or like that responsibility, then he should resign from public office because he is violating his oath to the US Constitution (and the Illinois Constitution) in breach of public trust. Here is quick primer on both our state and fed constitutions:
1. Legislative branch makes the law. 2. Executive branch enforces the law. 3. Judicial branch says what the law is.
As members of the executive branch, can sheriffs say what the law is? No. Can sheriffs ask the courts to find a law unconstitutional? Yes. Are sheriffs who decide in their own personal opinion that a law is unconstitutional and refuse to enforce it upholding their oath to the above constitutional system? No. They are violating separation of powers (ironically, that is the exact constitutional argument they made to the court to find the SAFE-T Act unconstitutional).
The Annenberg Annual Civics Knowledge survey found that only 47% of Americans could correctly name all three branches of government- down from 56% in 2021. If the majority of Americans cannot name the three branches, chances are good they do not understand that the Constitution delegates specific powers to each branch. Keep this in mind when you speak to someone about the constitution- odds are they do not have a basic grasp on civics- and odds are we have a whole lot more elected officials, like county sheriffs, who also are in this ignominious majority. A lot of these sheriffs may honestly not know that only the judicial branch has the authority to find a law unconstitutional.
The State shall furnish 66 2/3% of the total annual salary to be paid to a sheriff. Said amounts furnished by the State shall be payable monthly by the Department of Revenue out of the Personal Property Tax Replacement Fund or the General Revenue Fund to the county in which the sheriff is elected or appointed. The county shall furnish 33 1/3% of the total annual salary.
The Illinois Constitution states:
SECTION 2. COUNTY TERRITORY, BOUNDARIES AND SEATS
(a) The General Assembly shall provide by law for the formation, consolidation, merger, division, and dissolution of counties, and for the transfer of territory between counties.
The rule of law must prevail. It's time for the Illinoius General Assembly to take action against the unconstitutional actions of these sheriffs - withold their pay, consolidate their departments, and/or eliminate their positions.
(Adapted from Capitolfax and social media posts by Rockford Attorney Sara Dady.)