Tierney Blog

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan Takes Action to Compel Reform in the Chicago Police Department

On Tuesday, the citizens of Chicago woke up to discover that their own Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, had sued the City of Chicago and its Police Department and is now asking a federal judge to force the City and other stakeholders to negotiate a consent agreement that would bring about long overdue police reform. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports the lawsuit and stood with the Attorney General at her press conference. This odd coupling is the result of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions backing away from an agreement in principle that followed a scathing U.S. DOJ report in January 2017 detailing civil rights violations by the Chicago police. Indeed, the U.S. DOJ initiated its pattern and practice investigation and issued its findings at the urging of General Madigan.

Regarding Tuesday’s lawsuit, General Madigan said, “[a]s the state attorney general, we are essentially stepping into the shoes of the U.S. Department of Justice – shoes that the DOJ has abandoned....”

Without weighing in on the specifics of Chicago police reform, I want to note the importance of Madigan's decision. The Illinois Attorney General is showing that, in the face of actions taken by an administration rolling back reforms initiated by the previous administration, state officials can turn to federal courts to create federal oversight, compel reform and ultimately bring about justice.

The importance of Madigan's decision is therefore not limited to police reform. As has been well chronicled, the Trump administration has walked away from numerous initiatives in criminal justice, environment, labor and, of course, civil rights.

As Madigan's suit makes clear, this administration’s politically motivated actions do not change the facts, nor do they change our federal and state laws and constitutions. State attorneys general have broad jurisdiction in all of these areas, and many are guided by a sense of justice that will not allow facts and injustices brought to light by the Obama administration to simply be ignored.

Most initiatives brought by Democratic attorneys general have been aimed at stopping federal retrenchment. But in the months ahead, many more state attorneys general are likely to follow Madigan's leadership and take their own actions in both state and federal courts. We should all be proud, and somewhat relieved, that our constitutionally guaranteed system of federalism has ensured that the flawed actions of one president and his attorney general cannot stop our state attorneys general in their pursuit of justice.