At the beginning of February, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down a decision deeming caps on medical malpractice lawsuit awards unconstitutional. This allows juries to have free rein to award any monetary value that they see fit to a person who sues a doctor for medical malpractice. This decision has potential health care implications including higher medical malpractice insurance premiums for physicians which often subsequently mean higher costs for patients. Additionally, this decision sets a dangerous precedence that may allow the Illinois Supreme Court to legislate from the bench. Specifically, the summary of the judicial opinion stated, “[i]n this decision, the supreme court reversed as unnecessary the circuit court’s judgment holding the statute unconstitutional as applied, but affirmed the finding that, under the Illinois Constitution, the statute is facially invalid on separation of powers grounds.”

The Illinois state constitution states that the jurisdiction of the Illinois Supreme Court is to “exercise original jurisdiction in cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition or habeas corpus and as may be necessary to the complete determination of any case on review.” In layman’s terms, this means that the Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to review cases regarding taxation, overturning a lower court’s decision (mandamus), prohibition as determined by the Constitution, and protection of unlawfully imprisoned individuals (habeas corpus).

While the court opinion seems within the court’s jurisdiction to overturn a lower court’s opinion, it seems as if they are outside their bounds by, as they stated in their summary opinion, that “the statute is facially invalid on separation of powers grounds” (Article 2). Essentially, they are stating that the Court should be able to determine the laws of medical malpractice suits. Legislative powers are not given to the judicial branch, but to the legislative branch as stated in Article IV, Section 1 of the Illinois Constitution, “ [t]he legislative power is vested in the legislative branch”. The term, legislative, means that a certain entity has the right to make laws. Such legislative powers to make laws are given only to the legislative branch of the Illinois government.

While the Supreme Court decision states that limiting medical malpractice claims is “invalid on separation of powers grounds”, their decision seems to do just the opposite. Rather than appropriately reviewing legislation and the effects of such legislation, this decision ultimately allows the judicial branch to write the medical malpractice law by stating that there cannot be caps on such insurance. What is to say that the judicial branch cannot then decide what other laws or regulations may be? For example, with the precedence of this decision, the judicial branch may also have the “power” to determine the fine or prison time for anyone breaking an Illinois law, when such determinations are really left to be made by the legislative branch. The judicial branch, as all branches of government, must act within the power given to it by the Constitution. When one branch acts beyond its power, the branches of our government become tangled.

Crossposted here.