With divided Illinois Supreme Court, state's red-light camera law gets green light

Associated Press

Red-light cameras will stay put at intersections in Illinois after a divided state Supreme Court couldn't reach a decision on their legality in a test case focused on Chicago, according to a Thursday filing.

The four-sentence filing from the Illinois Supreme Court says nothing about points of disagreement, indicating only that the five justices who heard the case couldn't garner the four votes required to render a ruling. That means the case is dismissed and a ruling by Illinois' 1st District Appellate Court deeming the law constitutional stands.

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Critics say the cameras, which record and ticket drivers who run red lights, are prone to mistakes and trample motorists' due process rights in a grab for cash by municipal governments. Advocates say they make roads safer and free up police for other crime fighting.

A spokesman for the city of Chicago, which has one of the nation's largest red-light camera programs, welcomed the outcome.

"We are pleased that today's Supreme Court decision leaves that important (lower court) ruling — and the red-light camera program's proven public safety benefits — in place," John Holden said in an emailed statement.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Patrick Keating said he and other attorneys who appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court were considering their options. They could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the nation's highest court rarely hears state issues decided by state supreme courts, he said.

Two Illinois justices, Lloyd Karmeier and Anne Burke, had recused themselves from the Chicago case, making it harder for the five remaining panelists to reach the four votes needed for a decision. Neither Karmeier nor Burke explained why they stepped back; Burke is the wife of a powerful Chicago alderman, Democrat Edward Burke.

Several drivers initiated the lawsuit hoping to scuttle Chicago's 10-year-old red-light camera program. They argued Illinois legislators lacked constitutional authority to single out the Chicago area, its collar counties and two Illinois counties in the St. Louis area as the only parts of the state that could install such systems.

Keating, who said he's also been ticketed by the Chicago cameras, said Illinois had once barred localities from assuming powers to set up such traffic systems because they wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to use those powers primarily to generate revenue. He added, "It offends my inner civil libertarian that they are doing that now."

The lower court disagreed with that reasoning last year, ruling lawmakers properly granted Chicago and other heavily populated parts of the state the power to install the cameras.

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