How can a Governor enforce "Shelter in Place Orders" if cities or States' Attorneys refuse to enforce them?


I've seen reports of state's attorneys and cities refusing to enforce state Stay at Home orders. If a governor was so inclined, are there actions they could take against the state's attorneys and cities? For example, could a governor withhold state funding, or prosecute violations without the state's attorneys?

Here are the two of the events that prompted my question...


Posted 2020-05-13T22:36:21.040

Reputation: 123


This is sort of a US state level version of this question, with local officers refusing to enforce state law:

– divibisan – 2020-05-13T22:55:31.377

1Are you asking specifically about executive orders related to public health, or more generally what a Governor could do if state officials/attorneys/etc. refuse to enforce state law? Also, it may be too broad since the law (and the Governor's power to enforce it) likely varies from state to state (is there a specific one you have in mind?) – divibisan – 2020-05-13T22:59:45.270

1More generally what a Governor could do. Illinois is the state that has prompted the question, so that would be of particular interest, but honestly if anyone has a good answer for any state I would be interested. – DoubtingThomas3005 – 2020-05-13T23:07:38.437

I'm going to imagine that could vary by state. But that's just a hunch. – None – 2020-05-14T06:34:46.760

1Presumably they could be taken to court, and if the court orders them to enforce it and they still refuse to do so, then they can be imprisoned for contempt of court. Not putting it as an answer as there may be nuances of which I'm unaware. – Joe C – 2020-05-14T07:48:55.090



In Illinois, state's attorneys are elected by each county for a four year term. This is the norm in the US: 47 states and the District of Columbia elect state's or district attorneys. Of the remaining three, only in Alaska does the governor appoint the state's attorneys; in Connecticut they are appointed by a commission, and in New Jersey they are appointed by the court system.

District/state's attorneys (which are largely the same thing) have a great deal of autonomy. The governor cannot generally remove them from office directly, and funding for state's attorneys offices mainly comes from the legislature or federal grants, so governors can't effectively use the power of the purse over them. The governor's office can (of course) contest a d/s attorney's decisions in court, and governors have a lot of in-state influence and power that can make challenging them a risk (in terms of re-election and such). But at the end of the day, the d/s attorney gets to decide what cases s'he will and will not pursue, and short of obvious malfeasance (overt bias, influence peddling, or other activities that could be prosecuted) there isn't much to be done except to elect someone else in the next cycle.

Of course, there is some legal gray area when it comes to things like citations, fines, and other municipal actions. These are usually handled bureaucratically, without the involvement of the state's attorney's office. So while a state's attorney might refuse to prosecute a stay-at-home order, this won't necessarily stop police from issuing fines or judges from enforcing them; it would only stop higher-level prosecutions (whatever those might be).

Ted Wrigley

Posted 2020-05-13T22:36:21.040

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