SPRINGFIELD-A split Illinois Supreme Court handed Gov. Pat Quinn a significant victory late Tuesday in his effort to mothball state prisons and other facilities in a bid to cut costs.
By a 4-3 vote, the court lifted an injunction issued in October by an Alexander County judge, who blocked Quinn from closing prisons in Downstate Tamms and Dwight, as well as other facilities.
The decision seriously undercuts AFSCME Council 31 in its efforts to fight the closures and effectively gives Quinn the green light to proceed.
"AFSCME members are extremely disappointed in this ruling. The injunction is vital to upholding the union's right to seek judicial review of an arbitrator's findings on crucial health and safety concerns. Nonetheless, we intend to vigorously pursue that appeal," AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall said in a prepared statement.
"This ruling doesn't change the fact that closing any prison will worsen severe overcrowding throughout the correctional system, making the remaining prisons more dangerous for employees, inmates and ultimately the public," Lindall said.
An aide to Gov. Quinn praised the court's decision.
"This is encouraging news for Illinois taxpayers, who will no longer be on the hook for spending millions of dollars we don't have on empty or half-empty, unnecessary and very expensive facilities," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.
"Once fully implemented, these closures and consolidations will strengthen our long-term effort to cut state expenses, save taxpayers $100 million a year and help restore fiscal stability to Illinois," she said.
In Tuesday's ruling, Justices Charles Freeman, a Democrat, and Republican Justices Bob Thomas, Lloyd Karmeier and Rita Garman voted to lift the injunction and permit Quinn to close the facilities, which also includes a juvenile center in Joliet.
Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride was joined by fellow Democratic Justices Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis in opposition to the majority's ruling.
"In my opinion, the parties, this court and the interests of justice would be better served by denying the request for supervisory relief and letting the parties raise their respective arguments in the lower courts," Kilbride wrote in his dissenting opinion.