Central District of Illinois Federal Court
The Central District of Illinois is one of the original federal judicial districts established in Illinois and has a long, rich history dating back to the 19th century. This important court serves a vital role in the administration of justice in the central region of Illinois today.
History and Establishment
The Central District of Illinois federal court was established in April 1979 by an act of Congress. Prior to that, a single District of Illinois had served the entire state since 1855. But the caseload grew too large, so Congress split it into the Northern and Southern districts in 1905. Finally, the Central District was carved out nearly 75 years later to improve judicial efficiency in the central counties of Illinois.
The Central District of Illinois covers a 46 county region in the heart of Illinois. The district includes major urban areas such as Springfield, Peoria, Champaign-Urbana, and Rock Island. More rural counties are also part of the district, including Adams, Cass, Mason, and Schuyler counties. In total, it spans over 35,000 square miles in the Prairie State.
Courthouses and Locations
The main courthouse for the district is the Paul Findley Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Springfield. This stately building was constructed in 2006 and named for former U.S. Representative Paul Findley.
In addition to Springfield, the district has divisions and courthouses located in three other cities:
- Champaign/Urbana – The Springer Federal Building houses one division
- Peoria – The U.S. Courthouse is located on this city’s riverfront
- Rock Island – The U.S. Courthouse here dates back to the 1930s
Organization and Structure
The Central District is led by the U.S. Marshal, currently Brendan O. Heffner. The court has a total of four district judges and five magistrates judges who handle cases across several divisions. For administrative purposes, there are civil, criminal, and magistrate judge divisions.
District judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to lifetime appointments. Magistrate judges serve renewable 8-year terms and handle matters like settlement conferences and motions. The Central District uses automated electronic case filing for efficiency.
Caseload and Notable Cases
Like all federal district courts, the Central District of Illinois handles both civil and criminal cases that fall under federal jurisdiction. On its civil docket, the court sees cases involving federal regulatory laws, government programs, federal constitutional issues, and diversity jurisdiction.
Famous civil cases tried in this court include Roe v. Teleco, a landmark racial discrimination case against Caterpillar.
On the criminal side, the court handles cases involving federal crimes like drug trafficking, financial fraud, and child pornography. The Central District has overseen several high-profile espionage trials, including the case of Brendan Baker, convicted of selling secrets to the Russian government.
Impact on the Region
As the federal judicial body governing a large portion of Illinois, the Central District has a major impact on the region. Its decisions directly shape federal law and policy in central Illinois. Major consumer, employment, and environmental cases decided here have had ripple effects.
Economically, the Central District courthouses provide many stable jobs and legal business to the communities they serve. The Springfield courthouse development helped revive that city’s downtown area.
Several notable judges have served on the Central District bench over the years. Judge Harold Baker was appointed in 1979 and served as the court’s first chief judge. Judge Sue Myerscough became the district’s first female judge in 1998 and made history again in 2018 as its first female chief judge.
Famous lawyers who have practiced before the court include Abraham Lincoln, who appeared in cases there while riding the 8th Circuit as a lawyer before becoming president. More recently, former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tried high profile cases in the Central District for over a decade.
For over 40 years, the Central District of Illinois has delivered justice and upheld the Constitution through its rulings. It has impacted life in its region significantly and handled important cases that have influenced the broader federal legal landscape. The court continues to administer the law fairly from its historic courthouses in Springfield and three other central Illinois cities. Its legacy will continue to grow for decades to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
When was the Central District of Illinois federal court established?
The Central District of Illinois was established by Congress in April 1979.
How many courthouses does the Central District have?
The Central District has four courthouses located in Springfield, Champaign/Urbana, Peoria, and Rock Island.
Who becomes a district judge on the court?
District judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to lifetime appointments on the federal bench.
What was the famous Caterpillar discrimination case tried here?
The landmark case Roe v. Teleco was tried in the Central District. It was a racial discrimination suit against Caterpillar.
How many judges currently serve on the Central District?
There are four district judges and five magistrate judges currently serving on the Central District of Illinois.