Citing Heller, Illinois legislators consider explicitly permitting judges to carry concealed firearms into courthouses

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which specifically found an individual right to keep and bear arms, has lead to a massive review of state statutes as they pertain to firearms. Illinois is no exception: it was the case of McDonald v. Chicago that applied Heller to the states via the 14th Amendment. For judges on a more personal level, however, Heller and McDonald may mean more discretion in carrying their own firearms into their courts.

At present, Illinois law and rules of court are relatively silent on whether judges explicitly may (or may not) bring firearms into courthouses or courtroom. The only apparently relevant statute is 720 ILCS 5/24-1. Sections (a) and (b) define the offense of unlawful use of weapons and provide for sentences depending on the particular actions. (a)(4)-(9) in particular deal with the carrying of firearms.

Section 720 ILCS 5/24-1(c) however provides enhanced sentences for carrying a firearm in public places, such as parks and courthouses (defined as “any building that is used by the Circuit, Appellate, or Supreme Court of this State for the conduct of official business.”). Illinois, unlike most states, does not provide elsewhere that such courthouse restrictions do not apply to judges.

HB 1403 and SB 2150, however, would modify the restrictions. Concealed firearms permits would not allow a person to carry into “Any courthouse solely occupied by the Circuit, Appellate, or Supreme Court or a courtroom of any of those courts, or court proceeding.” However “nothing in this Section shall preclude a judge, or State’s Attorney holding a concealed firearms permit, from carrying a concealed firearm within a courthouse.” (emphasis added)

Surrounding states take slightly different tacks with respect to courthouse carrying.

Missouri (§ 571.107 R.S.Mo.) bans firearms generally (and in the same section specifically exempts judges from the ban) in “Any courthouse solely occupied by the circuit, appellate or supreme court, or any courtrooms, administrative offices, libraries or other rooms of any such court whether or not such court solely occupies the building in question…The.. supreme court… may by rule..prohibit or limit the carrying of concealed firearms by endorsement holders in that portion of a building owned, leased or controlled by that unit of government.”

Kentucky’s (KRS § 237.110) has a similar clause banning generally the carrying of a firearm  in “Any courthouse, solely occupied by the Court of Justice courtroom, or court proceeding.” but then (KRS § 237.020) exempts active, retired, and senior status justices and judges with a handgun permit. In fact, Kentucky active, retired, and senior staus judges with a permit may carry “at all times and at all locations within the Commonwealth of Kentucky” exception detention facilities, which specifically “does not include courtrooms, facilities, or other premises used by the Court of Justice or administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.”

Illinois HB 1403 is in the House Agriculture & Conservation Committee while SB 2150 is currently in the Senate Assignments Committee awaiting designation to a subject matter committee.

Boosting the minimum years admitted to the bar to be a judge

Several weeks ago we looked several states looking to do away with non-attorney judges. Other states are looking at increasing the minimum number of years an attorney must practice law (or at least be admitted to the bar) before becoming a judge. For example, Alabama in 2009 passed a law (SB 28) requiring a minimum number of years to serve on certain courts: 10 for the appellate courts (Supreme, Civil Appeals, Criminal Appeals), 5 for Circuit, 3 for District.

In 2010, Illinois, which currently requires only that a would-be jurist be admitted to the bar, is considering requiring (HCA 57)  a set number of years or practice before reaching certain courts: 15 years for their  Supreme Court, 12 for their Appellate Court, and 10 for their Circuit Court.

Also active this year, New Jersey is considering (SCR 83) increasing from 10 years to 15  its existing minimum  for the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court (i.e. the state’s intermediate appellate court), and the Superior Court.