U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is one of the busiest federal district courts in the country. Headquartered in Chicago, the court serves over 9 million people across 20 counties in northern Illinois. This important judicial district handles a wide range of federal civil and criminal cases that arise in its jurisdiction.
With a long and distinguished history dating back to the 19th century, the Northern District of Illinois has played a pivotal role in many landmark rulings and cases of national significance. Its courthouses in Chicago and Rockford see a bustling docket of cases each year on matters involving federal law. The court is also known for its exceptional bench of district court judges.
This article provides an in-depth look at the Northern District of Illinois and its operations. Key topics covered include the court’s history, jurisdiction, leadership, facilities, legal community, and more. Understanding this important federal district court provides insight into the American judicial system.
History and Overview of the Northern District of Illinois
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois was originally established in 1855 as the United States District Court for the District of Illinois. It was later reorganized and given its current name in 1905. The court has a long and notable history as part of the federal judiciary.
Creation and Early Years
The Northern District of Illinois was created when Illinois was divided into two federal judicial districts in 1855. The enabling legislation was signed into law by President Franklin Pierce.
In its early years, the court saw several key rulings on patents, bankruptcy, and railroad receiverships. Many prominent Illinois citizens served as U.S. Attorneys and judges during this formative era. The court’s jurisdiction also grew along with northern Illinois’ rapidly expanding population in the late 1800s.
Over the past century and a half, the Northern District of Illinois has been home to many distinguished federal judges.
Notable early judges include Thomas Drummond, Henry Blodgett, Peter Grosscup, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and James A. Wilkerson. Several noteworthy judges served during the 20th century as well, such as William J. Campbell, John Paul Stevens, and Prentice Marshall.
Today’s Northern District of Illinois judges include Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer along with Sharon Johnson Coleman, Matthew F. Kennelly, Charles P. Kocoras, John Z. Lee, Thomas M. Durkin, Edmond E. Chang, Gary Feinerman, Sara Ellis, Robert M. Dow Jr., and more.
The Northern District has handled several landmark federal cases that have had national impact.
Some of the most famous include the 1945-46 mass sedition trial of Nazi sympathizers, the Black Panther raid case in 1969, the Chicago Seven contempt trial stemming from protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the AT&T antitrust breakup suit in the 1980s, and the Obama eligibility litigation in 2009.
More recent major cases include former Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich’s political corruption trials, various suits related to Chicago Police Department controversies, and Blagojevich’s later commutation by President Trump.
Jurisdiction and Caseload
The Northern District of Illinois has broad federal jurisdiction over 20 counties in its territorial boundaries. It sees thousands of civil and criminal filings every year spanning a wide range of federal matters.
The Northern District of Illinois has jurisdiction over the following counties in northern Illinois:
- Jo Daviess
- La Salle
This includes all of metro Chicago along with surrounding collar counties and other outlying areas. The district covers around 9.5 million residents in total.
Types of Cases
As an Article III federal court, the Northern District of Illinois hears both civil and criminal cases involving federal law.
Some of the major types of cases include:
- Civil rights
- Employment discrimination
- Personal injury
- Business and contract disputes
- Securities fraud
- Federal tax issues
- Social Security appeals
- Prisoner petitions
- Drug crimes
- White collar crime
- Public corruption
- Firearms offenses
- Immigration violations
The court also reviews actions taken by federal agencies and arbitrators.
The Northern District of Illinois receives thousands of new case filings every year. In 2021, over 13,000 cases were filed in the district.
Its civil caseload included over 11,000 filings in 2021. The largest categories were personal injury, prisoner petitions, civil rights, foreclosures, social security appeals, labor disputes, contract disputes, and intellectual property cases.
On the criminal side, the district saw over 2,000 new filings in 2021. The most common charges were drug offenses, immigration violations, fraud, firearms offenses, public corruption, and other federal crimes.
With its heavy caseload, the Northern District of Illinois is consistently one of the busiest federal district courts in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic did cause a dip in filings in 2020 before cases rebounded in 2021.
District Leadership and Key Personnel
The Northern District of Illinois has an experienced team of judicial leadership and personnel that help the court carry out its duties.
The U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Illinois is LaDon Reynolds. As Marshal, Reynolds oversees the district’s law enforcement duties and security operations. The Marshals Service protects the federal judiciary, apprehends fugitives, transports prisoners, seizes assets, and manages seized assets.
The U.S. Attorney is the top federal prosecutor for the district. John R. Lausch, Jr. currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois after being appointed in 2017. The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes federal criminal cases and represents the United States in civil actions.
Federal Public Defender
The Federal Defender Program provides legal defense services to indigent defendants charged with federal crimes in the district. Thomas P. Durkin currently serves as the District’s Federal Defender. The office handles thousands of cases each year with a staff of over 100 attorneys.
Courthouses and Facilities
The Northern District of Illinois primarily operates out of two main federal courthouses and court facilities located in Chicago and Rockford.
Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S. Courthouse
The Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago serves as the Northern District of Illinois’ main courthouse facility. The imposing, modernist structure stands along the Chicago River in the Loop district downtown.
Opened in 1964 and named for Senator Everett Dirksen, the courthouse has over 1 million square feet of space including dozens of courtrooms and judicial chambers. It houses the offices of the Clerk of Court, District Court judges, U.S. Marshal, and U.S. Attorney. Many landmark trials have occurred in the building over the past half century.
Stanley J. Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse
The Stanley J. Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse in Rockford serves as the Northern District’s secondary courthouse facility. Opened in 1997, it provides the District Court with space for trials and proceedings taking place in Rockford and surrounding counties. Judge Roszkowski was a former Northern District of Illinois judge.
Other Courtrooms and Facilities
The Northern District also utilizes courtroom and office space in the Dirksen Courthouse’s adjoining Kluczynski Federal Building. Additional operational space is located off-site at the Metcalfe Federal Building while the court’s bankruptcy courtrooms are in the Everett McKinley Dirksen Building. The court occasionally holds proceedings in other local federal buildings or area courthouses as well.
Legal Community and Bar Associations
The Northern District of Illinois is home to an extensive, vibrant legal community and several leading bar associations.
Northern District of Illinois Bar Association
The Northern District of Illinois Bar Association, or NDIBA, is a voluntary membership organization of attorneys practicing in the Northern District. NDIBA promotes the administration of justice within the District Court through educational programs, rules review, and member services. It has over 1,500 members.
Chicago Bar Association
The Chicago Bar Association is the largest metropolitan bar association in the U.S. Founded in 1874, the CBA has over 18,000 attorney members. It provides professional development, pro bono services, networking events, and publications for Chicago-area lawyers and legal professionals. The CBA maintains an important relationship with the Northern District of Illinois.
Other Local Bar Groups
Other bar associations include specialty groups like the Federal Bar Association Chicago Chapter, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, LGBT Bar Association of Greater Chicago, and various local/county bar groups. These organizations support Northern District practitioners through professional networks, CLEs, and access to justice programs.
- The Northern District of Illinois is a busy federal judicial district encompassing Chicago and surrounding counties.
- It has a long, important history within the federal judiciary system.
- The District Court handles an extensive civil and criminal caseload under federal jurisdiction.
- Leadership includes the U.S. Marshal, U.S. Attorney, Federal Defender, district judges, and court staff.
- Main facilities are located in the Dirksen Courthouse in Chicago and Roszkowski Courthouse in Rockford.
- An active, engaged legal community supports the court and its practitioners.
The Northern District of Illinois will continue playing a central role in upholding justice as a key component of the federal judiciary. Understanding its history, operations, and jurisprudence provides valuable insight into America’s legal institutions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How many district judges currently serve on the Northern District of Illinois?
A: The Northern District of Illinois currently has 28 active district judges, including Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.
Q: What was a historically significant case handled by the Northern District of Illinois?
A: A landmark case was the AT&T antitrust litigation in the 1980s, which ultimately led to the breakup of the Bell System telephone monopoly.
Q: How many magistrate judges does the Northern District employ?
A: The Northern District has 15 full-time magistrate judges and a number of recalled magistrates who hear cases part-time.
Q: Does the Northern District hold court in locations other than Chicago and Rockford?
A: On occasion, the Northern District will hold proceedings in other cities such as Peoria or Galena when appropriate for a trial. But Chicago and Rockford are its two main venues.
Q: Where did former President Barack Obama litigate his eligibility to serve as president?
A: Numerous lawsuits challenging Obama’s eligibility were filed in the Northern District of Illinois and were ultimately dismissed.