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Jones v. Markiewicz-Qualkinbush

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 2, 2016

Thaddeus Jones, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Michelle Markiewicz-Qualkinbush, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Submitted October 6, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:16-cv-08977 - Robert W. Gettleman, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, Ripple and Williams, Circuit Judges.

          Ripple, Circuit Judge

         This case, which arises out of our motions practice, is an appeal from the denial of a preliminary injunction in a dispute among the parties about the placement of certain referendum propositions on the November ballot.

          These propositions principally concern the local mayoral election in Calumet City and term limits on candidates for that office.

         Steven Grant and Calumet City Concerned Citizens (together, the "Petition Plaintiffs") sought to place on the ballot a proposition that, if approved by the voters, would impose mayoral term limits. The County Clerk refused to place the proposition on the ballot on the ground that Calumet City's current administration already had placed three other propositions on the ballot, and state law permitted no more than three propositions in any single election.

         The City's new ballot initiatives appeared to target specifically Thaddeus Jones, an alderman who had announced he was running for mayor. Mr. Jones therefore also brought suit against the city officials. Together, the Petition Plaintiffs and Mr. Jones (together, the "plaintiffs") sought injunctive relief in the district court, claiming that the actions of the city officials violated the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Constitution of Illinois. The district court denied a preliminary injunction, and the plaintiffs appealed. Because preparations for the election were underway, we granted expedited review and, after considering the submissions of the parties, affirmed summarily the order of the district court. At that time, we also indicated that we would issue an opinion in due course.

          I

         BACKGROUND

         A.

         On June 18, 2016, plaintiffs Mr. Grant and Calumet City Concerned Citizens began to circulate a referendum petition to impose mayoral term limits. The petition specifically asked:

Shall ... Calumet City be subject to a term limit prohibiting all people from serving more than three (3) terms of office as Mayor, where a term of office includes partial terms of office of two years or more, including all past terms of office served and any term of office currently being served, effective immediately upon approval and passage of this binding referendum? Yes [or] No. [1]

         Notably, if this proposition were approved by the voters, it would have disqualified the incumbent mayor from running for reelection in April 2017.

         At the time of the initial circulation of the plaintiffs' petition, the defendant mayor and city council members apparently had not discussed imposing term limits on the mayoral office and had no immediate plans to place any referenda on the ballot. Referendum propositions had not been used frequently.[2] Nonetheless, on June 23, 2016, the City Council passed a resolution, placing the following propositions on the November 2016 general election ballot:

1. Shall the City of Calumet City allow taverns (bars) to remain open until 2:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays?[3]
2. Shall any Calumet City elected official be able to receive two (2) pensions by being allowed to participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund if they are a member of the Illinois General Assembly Retirement Fund?[4]
3. Shall the City of Calumet City, Cook County, Illinois, adopt the following term limits for the Office of Mayor to be effective for and applicable to all persons who are candidates for Mayor being elected at the Consolidated Election to be held on April 4, 2017, and subsequent elections: Mayor - no person shall be eligible to seek election to, or hold the office of mayor where that person has held the elected office of either Mayor or Alderman of ... Calumet City for [four] or more consecutive full four (4) year terms.[5]

         If approved by the voters, the first two propositions would be advisory; the final one would be binding.

         On August 25, 2016, the City Council also voted to place three additional referenda questions on the February 28, 2017 primary ballot. The plaintiffs filed their petition with the City Clerk on August 8, 2016. The petition was timely and contained the necessary number of signatures. The County Clerk determined that this proposition could not appear on the ballot because the Illinois Election Code contains a provision, referred to as the "Rule of Three, " which reads as follows:

Irrespective of the method of initiation, not more than 3 public questions ... may be submitted to referendum with respect to a political subdivision at the same election.
If more than 3 propositions are timely initiated or certified for submission at an election with respect to a political subdivision, the first 3 validly initiated, by the filing of a petition or by the adoption of a resolution or ordinance of a political subdivision, as the case may be, shall be printed on the ballot and submitted at that election.

10 ILCS 5/28-1. Therefore, by operation of the Rule of Three, no additional items could be placed on the ballot. The County Clerk did not directly notify the Petition Plaintiffs that their referenda item was blocked.

          Having heard nothing regarding the status of their proposed ballot referendum, the plaintiffs contacted the County Clerk on September 6 to inquire as to the status. They were informed that the referendum had not been certified because it had been preempted by the City Council referenda items under the Rule of Three. The Petition Plaintiffs accordingly brought this action.

         Thaddeus Jones, a State Representative and five-term Calumet City Alderman, is the only person to have declared his intention to compete against incumbent Mayor Markiewicz-Qualkinbush in the April election. He also is affected uniquely by two of the City's ballot referenda. First, one proposition asks the voters whether "any Calumet City elected official" should be able to receive two pensions by "being allowed to participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund if they are a member of the Illinois General Assembly Retirement Fund?[6] The second question asks whether individuals who have served as "Alderman of the city of Calumet City for [four] or more consecutive full four (4) year terms" should "be eligible to seek election to, or hold the office of, mayor?"[7] As a State Representative and Alderman, ...


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