Heiple Saga Fosters Proposal to Amend State Constitution

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Byline: Kate Clements Daily Herald Staff Writer

Once again, legislators are pushing for various changes to the Illinois Constitution in time for voters' consideration in November.

Traditionally though, such changes to the state Constitution rarely succeed.

This year, there were 35 proposed amendments. But just two proposals are alive in the Senate and one in the House. Lawmakers can put a maximum of three proposals on the ballot in any one year.

Democratic state Rep. Louis Lang of Skokie is sponsoring an amendment to change the makeup of the five-member Illinois Courts Commission. It passed unanimously in committee Wednesday and is on the way to the full House. A similar proposal is one of the two surviving Senate amendments.

The proposal was prompted by last year's controversy with former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice James Heiple.

Heiple was censured by the courts commission, which was chaired by Moses Harrison II, a fellow Supreme Court justice and friend of Heiple.

Questions arose about the appropriateness of judges sitting in judgment of their fellow judges, prompting calls to change the commission's makeup. The proposal would add to the board two non-lawyers, appointed by the governor.

"Where issues come up in Illinois that require a review of the Constitution, we should do that," Lang said. "In this particular case there is a crisis of confidence in our courts."

Lang said he feels altering the Constitution should be kept to a minimum, but changes are sometimes necessary.

"And where it is necessary, we should proceed, but we should always proceed with a caution flag, and that caution flag is don't do more than you have to do. The Constitution is not a place where we ought to be legislating, it's a place where we ought to be adjusting or fine-tuning the broad-based issues that are included in the constitution. …