How the Liberty Justice Center fought for freedom in 2015
From challenging the forced unionization of home caregivers and day care providers to suing to stop Chicago from collecting a “Netflix tax,” the Liberty Justice Center has fought for its clients’ constitutional rights and against illegal taxation.
The Liberty Justice Center, or LJC, is the Illinois Policy Institute’s litigation partner, and brings lawsuits that focus primarily on economic liberty and free speech to ensure that Illinoisans are free to earn a living and live their lives free from government harm.
Here are some of the 2015 highlights from LJC’s work.
1. Challenging excessive tax credits
In January, LJC filed a lawsuit on behalf of taxpayers challenging the state’s awards of excessive tax credits under the Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE, program. The EDGE Tax Credit Act says that tax credits that businesses receive under the EDGE program cannot exceed the amount of income taxes withheld from new employees the business hires after entering into a tax-credit agreement with the state. But the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has adopted a regulation under which it has been giving certain businesses tax credits in much greater amounts. This lawsuit seeks to make the department follow the law and end this practice.
Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Madonia ruled in May that taxpayers didn’t have standing to challenge this program; LJC appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court will now consider the issue.
2. Fighting forced support for unions
In March, LJC went to federal court on behalf of Illinois state workers who have been forced to pay fees to a union against their will. This lawsuit asks the federal courts to declare that government workers shouldn’t be forced to surrender their First Amendment rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech just to keep their jobs.
Soon after LJC filed a complaint in that case, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take another case that involves the same issue: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, brought by a group of California public-school teachers who have been forced to pay union fees. In effect, when the Supreme Court decides that case, it will decide LJC’s case on behalf of Illinois workers as well. LJC filed an amicus brief on behalf of its Illinois clients in the Friedrichs case, showing that it is impossible for Illinois government workers to avoid paying for unions’ political activity in violation of their First Amendment rights.
In November, LJC filed a lawsuit challenging Illinois’ forced unionization of home-based caregivers and child care providers. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Harris v. Quinn that the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing these people, who are not government employees, to pay union fees. This lawsuit asks the courts to take the next step and rule that these home caregivers and child care providers should not be forced to accept a government union as their “exclusive representative” at all, regardless of whether they have to pay fees. The Illinois attorney general will file a response to LJC’s complaint in January.
3. Fighting Chicago’s illegal “Netflix tax”
In September, LJC filed a lawsuit challenging the city of Chicago’s new 9 percent tax on Internet-based streaming video, audio and gaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify. The City Council never voted to tax these services; instead, the tax is the result of an “interpretation” by the city’s comptroller of an old amusement-tax ordinance that until now has covered things such as movie tickets and sporting events. The lawsuit, which LJC brought on behalf of subscribers to these services who have to pay the new tax, argues that because the comptroller imposed it without lawful authority, the tax discriminates against online commerce, and it violates the federal and state constitutions. The city has moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that the comptroller was entitled to impose the tax; a court ruling on that motion should come in the first half of 2016.
Meanwhile, LJC’s older cases continue to make their way through the courts.
- In Beavers Donuts v. City of Evanston, LJC is representing the owners of Beavers Coffee & Donuts, who have been denied a license to operate their food truck in Evanston because of a local law that only allows owners or agents of brick-and-mortar restaurants in Evanston to operate food trucks there. The lawsuit challenges this unfair discrimination, which only serves one purpose: protecting established restaurants from competition. The Cook County Circuit Court will likely issue a decision in the case sometime in 2016.
- In Illinois Liberty PAC v. Madigan, LJC is challenging Illinois’ campaign-contribution limits, which limit how much everyone in Illinois can give to candidates for office – except political party leaders, who can give as much as they want to the candidates they favor. This federal lawsuit argues that the attempt to tilt the political playing field in the establishment’s favor violates the First Amendment. The case will go to trial in January.
- In Peterson v. Village of Downers Grove, LJC is challenging a sign ordinance that would force Bob Peterson to take down a hand-painted sign that has been on the back wall of his business – facing the Metra tracks and providing vital advertising for his moving service – for 70 years. S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang ruled in the village’s favor on Dec. 14, so LJC will now take the fight for Mr. Peterson’s rights to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
LJC looks forward to continuing the fight for liberty in 2016 with even more lawsuits protecting individual rights and enforcing limits on government power in Illinois.