Pritzker wins bid to end Shakman decree’s judicial oversight of hiring

Pritzker wins bid to end Shakman decree’s judicial oversight of hiring

Michael Shakman — the lawyer, who fought political hiring in city, county and state government and won the decree named for him — shown with his court filings in 1978,

Michael Shakman — the lawyer, who fought political hiring in city, county and state government and won the decree named for him — shown with his court filings in 1978,

Sun-Times archives

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled in favor of Gov. J.B. Pritzker in his bid to end judicial oversight of the state’s employment practices via the Shakman decree.

Pritzker moved to vacate the half-century-old Shakman decree with state lawyers telling the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals that “there is no evidence the state is considering political factors in hiring today.”

The final judgment, filed on Friday, vacates the 1972 consent decree as it applies to Pritzker and state jobs.

“The power to hire, fire, and establish accompanying policies needs to return to the people of Illinois and the Governor they elected,” Appellate Judge Michael Y. Scudder Jr. wrote in the opinion.

“The federal courts will remain open to decide individual cases of alleged constitutional violations should they arise. But no longer shall the Governor’s employment practices and policies have to win the approval of a United States court.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference at in the Gresham neighborhood in May.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference at in the Gresham neighborhood in May.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The Shakman decree banned political considerations in hiring and firing, though there are some exceptions. Oversight was expanded in 2017 to include all state agencies under the governor’s control after a hiring scandal was uncovered at the Illinois Department of Transportation under former Gov. Pat Quinn. But the governor argued state agencies no longer need a watchdog to prevent patronage hiring. 

The decree is named for good-government lawyer Michael Shakman, who filed the original landmark lawsuit in 1969 and won the consent decree in 1972.

Friday’s ruling outlines that six different federal judges have overseen Shakman cases since 1969, with at least, 1,000 status reports filed since the decree took effect in 1972 — creating a huge caseload.

“The federal docket now includes over 10,000 entries—the first from October 1969 and the most recent from this week,” Scudder wrote. “What may have started with a federal court’s well-grounded injunction came to look more like indefinite federal judicial supervision of state employment practices.”

Michael Shakman in 1970, left, and in 2014, right.

Michael Shakman in 1970, left, and in 2014, right.

Pete Peters and Chandler West.

Scudder wrote that the governor has “implemented a durable remedy and satisfied the objectives of the 1972 decree,” including a monitoring division within the Office of Inspector General and a limited Rutan-exempt list. Political hires — or Rutan-exempt employees — are staffers in management or policy-making positions who serve at the will of the governor and are exempt from union or civil service protection.

Cook County in 2018 was removed from the constraints of the Shakman decree, with Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier finding the county to be in “substantial compliance” with fair hiring and employment practices.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had argued that since 2006, the Shakman suit had cost county taxpayers around $8 million. Around $3 million of that went to claims from employees who said patronage played a role in them advancing in their careers.

A federal judge in 2014 released Chicago from the consent decree. Since 1972, Chicago taxpayers had spent $22.9 million to create a $12 million fund created to compensate victims of the city’s rigged hiring system; $6.6 million for the hiring monitor; $1.8 million for consultants; $1.5 million for plaintiff’s counsel; and $1 million to outside counsel.

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