By Bob Negele
Illinois had a very controversial law that banned the video or audio recording of police officers on the job. The so-called “Illinois’ eavesdropping law” was one of the harshest of its kind in the country; a felony, with a maximum of 15 years in prison.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the law is officially off the books. The law has been unenforceable since June, when a federal court put a temporary injunction order which prevented Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez from prosecuting anyone under the statute.
A temporary injunction is a tool the court can use to stop a certain action from taking place. In this case, by preventing Alvarez from prosecuting anyone under the statute, the court essentially made the law unenforceable (because the state’s attorney is necessary to file charges under the law).
The federal appeals court found that the eavesdropping law was unconstitutional because it violated free-speech rights. This ruling was appealed by Illinois officials to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, it essentially had the same effect as affirming the appeals court decision (essentially, but not technically). The legal precedent from an appeals court does not bind other portions of the country in the same way as the Supreme Court. But for residents of Illinois, it has the effect of an affirmation from the high court.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, was responsible for the lawsuit against Alvarez which led to the demise of the law. After the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, the ACLU has brought a motion to permanently ban the enforcement of the law.
On the other side of the coin, Anita Alvarez has argued that the law is important to proper law enforcement. Her main argument was that, if people were allowed to record the police, the police would have difficulty getting civilians to speak candidly to officers. This would clearly cause problems for officers.
Despite her argument, the federal appeals court ruled that the law “restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests.”
Even Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has come out in favor of allowing citizens to tape police, assuming the police could tape the citizens as well.
At the time of the article, Alvarez had not yet commented publicly on the Court’s ruling. However, Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Alvarez, said a ruling from the Supreme Court could provide “prosecutors across Illinois with legal clarification and guidance with respect to the constitutionality and enforcement” of the statute.
The debate over this law has raged on for over a year and despite all the passionate opinions on both sides, the Supreme Court has the last word, ironically enough, by refusing to say anything at all.