Thursday, February 2, 2012

Illinois Supreme Court...You Disappoint Me

Oh Illinois Supreme Court, how you disappoint me.

For those of you who know me, you probably know that I'm a pretty firm believer in our judicial system and it's ability to uphold the law. That's their job, after all. Working in the legal field for the past several years has, for the most part, encouraged this faith in our legal system. Until today. The Illinois Supreme Court came down with an Opinion today that stops citizens from having a private right of action to enforce compliance with the law.

This should be pretty simple, right? The legislative branch of the government makes the laws, the executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch interprets the law and punishes lawbreakers. In this particular case, the legislative branch did it's job and passed the laws to protect our environment. The executive branch (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) ignored the laws and issued a permit that was in clear violation of the law. When brought to the judicial system to interpret the law, the Illinois Supreme Court decided (unanimously) today that one can only enforce against non-permitted activities or violations of a permit, unless one appeals the illegal permit through the administrative review process (Which, it should be noted, the law clearly states this process cannot impair the rights of enforcement of the substantive provisions of that law). And what would you be enforcing, if not the permit? The law perhaps.

What does this mean? Basically, the government can issue illegal permits, and if you catch it in time, you can go through the administrative review process where the government decides on the issue(s) they already decided wrongly on. In this particular case, the permit in question had expired. The suit was brought strictly against current site conditions and the fact that they weren't compliant with the law.

The Opinion states, "A contrary construction of the statute would also impact legitimate reliance by a permitee, and create significant uncertainty by allowing the terms of the permit to be reopened and reconsidered at any time, even years after a reclamation project has been completed in accordance with a permit. We decline to conclude that the legislature intended such an absurd result in enacting section 8.05(a), which would not only call into question the finality of mining permit decisions throughout Illinois, but would undermine the role of IDNR in the permit process."

"The role of IDNR in issuing clearly illegal permits would be undermined- permits that violate the purpose and specific substantive provisions of that very law- no absurd result here. Citizens constitutional right to a healthful environment under the Illinois Constitution is only enforceable if it does not threaten the established interests of mining, I guess. I cannot express my profound disappointment that the Supreme Court read the purpose and provisions of the law right out of the law." Quote from Penni Livingston, lead attorney for Citizens Opposing Pollution, the Plaintiff in the Supreme Court case.

Companies, like ExxonMobil, failed to learn the lesson that most of us learn in early childhood: Clean up after yourself. And while I find it profoundly disappointing, that greed overcomes common sense and common decency, I am far more disappointed in our government: A government that creates the laws, but doesn't have the sense to enforce them, or interpret them as they plainly read and to fulfill the purpose stated.

Here that purpose is to restore the land, which has not happened. A copy of the Opinion can be found here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Most weekends in January keep me cooped up inside. Newly started classes means homework, work and class during the week means catching up on household chores, and chilly weather means lots of layers if you want to stay warm outdoors. But this past weekend I finished my homework early, spent Saturday doing laundry and dishes, and decided to have some quality sister time. Which this weekend meant sleeping over at my sisters with cake vodka and board games.

Oh, and Madlibs. If you have never played Madlibs, grab one the next time you're at the dollar store. If you think they're just for kids, think again. I have not laughed that hard in a VERY long time and it felt great.

Friday, January 13, 2012

One Year

A year ago today I was at the hospital with my family while my dad lay in the critical care unit, non-responsive with a ventilator doing his breathing for him. In a rush, we were kicked out of his room and sent to the waiting room as they called a code blue. His heart had stopped. I don't remember how long we sat there waiting, in tears, trying to hold ourselves together and tell ourselves that somehow this would all work out. When the doctor finally came to speak with us, he told us that my dad had coded twice and we needed to decide if we were going to resuscitate if his heart stopped again. I remember crying, asking if we needed to let him go. Miraculously, or at least it seemed that way at the time, his heart kept beating. Three days later they confirmed that he was brain-dead and would not be waking up. The ventilator was taken out and we said our goodbyes.

It's been a year now, without my dad. Officially I guess I have to wait three more days to say that. Today, the slightest movement sets me off, and I flash back to that day. My eyes well up, but I'm broken and I can't cry. I can't find release. I think my dad would want me to go for a long drive with the music turned up loud and just scream, let it out and just drive. This was a tradition for us. Not so much the screaming, but since the time I was very young my dad and I would go on what we called “cruises.” Just get in the car, explore the back roads, turn the radio up loud, or we would sit and talk. For hours.

I would give anything to have this tradition back in my life. To be able to talk to him, to sort out the crazy thoughts that are constantly going on inside. If I could have given anything to my father to make him come back, to make him stay in my life, to make him fight harder, I would have done it. “How hard do you want to struggle?” My mother says this was one of his favorite questions. I've watched what happens when the answer to that questions is “I don't.” He didn't want to struggle anymore. After fighting diabetes for a decade of his life, after struggling against alcoholism for over half his life, he gave up.

Now, yes, you could say that this was a freak occurrence, that he didn't know how sick he was. That he didn't know when you're sick your blood sugar sky rockets, that he didn't know his kidneys were shutting down, that he had pneumonia. You could say that you're not allowed to be mad at a person for this. You could say that. How could any of us have known? And yet here I am, I am mad. I am devastated. I am fucking inconsolable. And I'm allowed to say fucking. I am allowed to be mad.

My chest tightens when I think about those few days spent in the hospital wanting there to be something I could do, wanting to be able to wish it all away and make everything just rewind itself, back to a time when my dad was there when I called, when he was smiling and telling me that I need to just “Get 'er done.” This is the motto my dad leaves me with, to just jump in and get it done, to not get so caught up inside my head. And I am. Mostly. My heart aches, but every day I put one foot in front of the other and I move forward.

Yet here I am and I can't cry. I'm here wondering what it means to let go, what it means to say goodbye. It's not that I haven't come to terms with the fact that he's gone. He's dead. I know this. But how does one say goodbye to someone who isn't there anymore? How does one let go of all the hurt and pain without denying all the good? And maybe that's the point. You can't. The hurt makes you appreciate the joy. It reminds you how precious the goodness in our lives is: love, kindness, forgiveness; long talks with good friends, flowers for no good reason, board games at my sisters house...

Life can be short. It can be brutal. But it can also be amazing. I have an amazing family and amazing friends who are there for me when I need them, and I hope I am able to be the shoulder they need to cry on, the friend they need to talk to, the person who reminds them how truly amazing they are. That's the friend my dad was to me, and if I'm able to be that kind of friend, then I think, somehow, I'll be alright.