Illinois Civil Justice League: Chief Tort Reform?

March 17, 2005

Chief Tort Reform?

In my ongoing pursuit of photo-blogging many of the supporters of legal reform, I'm adding a special March Madness edition today with the newest case of lawsuit abuse hitting our state's anchor institution of higher education, the University of Illinois.

News reports from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and Bloomington Pantagraph, detail the Cook County lawsuit against the University's Board of Trustees.

From the Tribune:

The suit was filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court by the Illinois Native American Bar Association and two individuals. It asks the court to declare that the use of Illiniwek, the controversial symbol of the athletic teams at university's Urbana-Champaign campus, violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

Richard Hutchison, the Tinley Park attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the university's board "continues to circumvent" a decision on the fate of Illiniwek. "The board won't bring this matter to a head and do what's right, which is retire the chief," he said.

More from the Sun-Times:

The suit seeks an injunction to stop the chief. Attorney Richard Hutchinson said the 30-member law group -- of which he is a member -- is an "aggrieved party'' under the Civil Rights Act because members "suffer personally and professionally from the racist policy.'' Also aggrieved are two other plaintiffs on the suit, Hutchinson said: Stephen Naranjo, a Native American student at the U. of I.'s Chicago campus, and Roger Fontana, a Cherokee and a Champaign resident.

Tom Hardy, a U. of I. spokesman, said the university complies with all laws banning discrimination. He said the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education ruled in 1995 that Chief Illiniwek did not violate the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Using lawsuits to resolve matters that proponents can't win within Congress, state legislatures, and other quasi-legislative bodies is nothing new. It's the hallmark of judicial activism, in fact.

By suing, despite rulings from two federal executive branch agencies, anti-Chief proponents are attempting to circumvent both the legislative representation AND executive representation. In essence, who cares if Illinois voters have voted to elect a President and Governor and General Assembly...? If we can't sway the Board of Trustees, the General Assembly or the Governor, we'll just hope to find a friendly judge...

There must be many alternative viewpoints from other Native Americans about "The Chief". At, you will find photos from a 1982 presentation of the current Chief regalia made by Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow to the University of Illinois. I enjoyed the quote posted on the site by the late Sioux Chief:

"The power and ways are given to us to be passed onto others. To think anything else is pure selfishness. We get more by giving them away, and if we do not give them away, we lose them."

Chief Crow probably won't get to be cross-examined by the lawyers in this upcoming lawsuit, unfortunately he passed away in 1989. Perhaps the University will contact his descendents to serve as expert witnesses.

I found a website called, which has much of the history of the Illini and Chief traditions. I'm not a lawyer or judge, but I didn't see anything "racially offensive" or "demeaning." All I found was a lot of interesting information about the Native American history in our state, along with a group of students who - unbelievably enough - have really done their homework about the Chief. (That's a knock on college students in general, not UIUC students)

On the first day of the Fighting Illini's attempt to win a national championship, you would hope that someone wouldn't be using lawsuit abuse to drum up national attention for a cause they couldn't win within their University or their state's General Assembly. Unfortunately, while the Illini are marching their way through the Tourament of 64, they'll be running from a Cook County Court and some Chicago lawyers looking to capitalize on the team's success. Sad part is...the anti-Chief plaintiffs and their lawyers will lose nothing if this suit is thrown out, but state taxpayers will probably end up paying for University's lawyers to defend this suit.

(Editorial Note: I should mention that, while my sister and brother-in-law both attended the University of Illinois, I actually attended arch-rival Missouri. Despite my Tiger allegiance, I have always supported the Chief and will be rooting for the Illini this month. UIUC students support the Chief by more than a 2-1 margin.)

Update: Apparently the Chief is being sued in Federal Court in Urbana, according to Chief Illiniwek Blog. The Blog also reports on a comment from Senate President Emil Jones about his plans to increase pressure on the University to abandon the Chief, Jones told the Chicago Tribune: "I'm going to scalp him." And critics say the University is being racially insensitive?


Blogger IlliniPundit said...

Great post. I linked to you here.

7:51 AM  

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