Federal appeals court rules elected officials cannot be penalized for unethical actions if voters chose them anyway


A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled Monday in favor of former Speaker of the Illinois House Michael Madigan, finding that it cannot penalize him for his allegedly unethical behavior.

The court noted that throughout Madigan’s long career in politics—he is “the longest-serving head of any state or federal legislative body in the history of the United States”—he was either unopposed or comfortably beat his challengers. Despite his long record of success, in the 2016 election for the Democratic primary, Madigan was accused by challenger Jason Gonzales of putting “stooges” into the race to divide the Hispanic vote and ensure that Gonzales lost to Madigan. Madigan denies having any part in such an action.

Gonzales alleged that Madigan’s direction to these other two competitors to run was solely to inhibit his vote count and that such an action was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.

The appeals court held, however, that an essential aspect of such a claim by Gonzales is that voters have been “hoodwinked,” and that Gonzales did not produce any evidence that this aspect was satisfied. In fact, the court held that the voters could not have been hoodwinked because Gonzales released ads and gave speeches during his campaign making this allegation that other challengers in the race were Madigan’s “stooges.” There was also an editorial discussing the allegations in a local paper, which the court took to mean there was even less of a chance that voters were hoodwinked.

The essential holding of this case is, whether or not Madigan participated in the unethical conduct of adding competitors to the field to try to dilute the vote away from Gonzales, if the voters were not tricked and they agreed to elect him anyway, there is no penalty for the politician.