Lesson 7: The Illinois Constitution

Article I:  The Bill of Rights
Articles II and III
Article IV: The Legislative Branch
Article V: The Executive Branch
Duties of Illinois elected officials
Article VI: The Judicial Branch
Articles VII-XIV
3 Branches of Illinois Government


   In 1787, the United States Constitution set up a federal system of  government giving some powers to the national government and other powers to the state and local governments. The U.S. Constitution told each state it must set up its own government and write its own constitution. States were required to  have governments similar to the federal government, and the people of the state were required to elect representatives.
     Illinois became a state in 1818 and had to have its own constitution before it could become a state.  The current Illinois Constitution was adopted and ratified in 1970.
      The Constitution has a short preamble and fourteen articles. The U.S. Constitution adds amendments at the end in a separate part of the Constitution, but when changes are made to the Illinois Constitution, the amendments are made to the articles--the inside sections.

The Preamble

     The Preamble to the Illinois Constitution is an introductory paragraph which explains why it was written. The preamble is shown below; some of the wording is similar to the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.  

     We, the People of the State of Illinois-grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He has permitted us to enjoy and seeking His blessing upon our endeavors-in order to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the people; maintain a representative and orderly government; eliminate poverty and inequality; assure legal, social and economic justice; provide opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; insure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense and secure the blessings of freedom and liberty to ourselves and our posterity - do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois. 

Article I:  The Bill of Rights

     Article I of the Illinois Constitution states many of the individual rights and liberties found in the Bill  of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.  For example, Article I guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to assemble and petition, the right to bear arms, freedom from self incrimination, and the right to a trial by jury. 

     Article I guarantees due process and equal protection which means everyone is entitled to the same basic rights and the same fair procedures under the law. 

     Article I forbids discrimination on the basis of sex and on the basis of physical or mental handicaps—a statement which is not found in the U.S. Constitution. 

     One section of Article I is the right of eminent domain.  Eminent domain allows the government to purchase private property for public use.  For example, if a piece of land is needed to build a highway or a bridge to be used by all the people, the state has the right to buy the land for a fair price even if the owner does not want to sell the land.  

Article II:  The Powers of the State

     Article II of the Illinois Constitution divides the state government into 3 branches:  the legislative, the executive, and the judicial.   These branches or divisions are the same as the federal government. 

Article III:  Suffrage and Elections

     Article 3 sets up voting qualifications and  election laws.  To vote a person must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years old, and a resident of Illinois for at least 30 days prior to the election.  People must register to vote in the county they live. 

 Article IV: The Legislative Department

The Illinois State Capital in Springfield

    Article 4 provides rules for the legislative branch of Illinois government,  known as the General Assembly.   Similar to the U.S. Congress, the General Assembly is divided into 2 houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Illinois is divided into 59 legislative districts.  Each legislative district is divided into 2 representative districts.  Every ten years, the General Assembly must redistrict, or again divide the state into districts based on new census information.  Districts must be “compact, contiguous, and substantially equal in population,”  which means a districts can’t be divided into several parts and all districts must have approximately  the same number of people.  

     Each district elects one senator and two representatives, so there are 59 state senators and 118 representatives in the General Assembly.  To be elected to the General Assembly a person must be a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, and a resident of the district to be represented for at least 2 years.  Every two years, state representatives are elected and serve two-year terms.  State senators serve terms of either two years or four years.  

Article V: The Executive Department

     Article 5 provides rules for the executive branch of Illinois government.  Six officials are elected by the people of Illinois:
  • Governor
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of State
  • Comptroller
  • Treasurer
To run for one of these offices a person must be a U.S. citizen, at least 25 years old, and a resident of Illinois for 3 years.
Each official serves a four-year term.

The Executive Mansion in downtown Springfield
is the official residence of the Governor.
     The Governor is the chief executive officer of Illinois, just as the President  is the chief executive officer of the United states.  One main duty of the governor is to see that laws passed by the General Assembly are carried out. The Governor makes an annual report to the General Assembly, proposes a budget for the state, and signs or vetoes bills passed by the General Assembly.  State agencies such as the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Department of Transportation carry out the laws and policies of the state. The Governor appoints the directors of these agencies and many other administrators.  The Governor nominates state officials, but the nominations must be approved by the state Senate. 

     Many of the powers of the Governor are similar to the powers of the U.S. president.  One difference however, is the power the Governor has to veto or reduce items of appropriation bills (bills which spend money).  The Governor can eliminate certain items from the bill but approve the rest of the bill.  The President cannot do this; the President  can only approve or veto the entire bill.  

Duties of Illinois elected executive officials

Chief executive officer of Illinois.
(See paragraph above for explanation of duties.)
Lieutenant Governor 
Similar to the Vice President of the United States.
Performs any duties assigned by the Governor.
If the Governor dies suddenly or is unable to serve, the Lieutenant Governor becomes governor.
Attorney General
Chief legal officer of Illinois.
Represents the state, state agencies, and state officials in court.
Chief law enforcement officer in Illinois.
Coordinates crime-fighting activities with state, county, and local authorities. 
Secretary of State
Keeps the official  records of the General Assembly and the executive branch.
Licenses drivers and keeps drivers records, issues vehicle license plates and titles, and registers corporations. 
Chief fiscal officer for Illinois.
Reviews all bills and payments, pays the state’s bills, keeps records, and helps set financial policies for the state. 
Acts as the state’s banker, keeping and investing the money the state receives through taxes.

Article VI: The Judicial Department 

     Article 6 sets up the courts system for Illinois.  Much like the federal court system, there are 3 types of courts in Illinois:  the Illinois Supreme Court, appellate courts, and circuit or trial courts.

     The Illinois Supreme Court is made up of 7 judges, called justices.  Supreme Court justices are elected by the people and serve a term of 10 years.  The Illinois Supreme Court hears appeals from the appellate courts and  appeals from circuit courts when a death sentence has been imposed.  The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in a few special types of trials. 

     Appellate courts hear appeals from circuit courts. The appellate court is organized into five districts. The first meets in Chicago, the second in Elgin, the third in Ottawa, the fourth in Springfield, and the fifth in Mt. Vernon.  Judges are elected by voters in each district for ten-year terms. The number of appellate court judges is set by the legislature. Currently, there are 54 appellate judges in Illinois.  

     Circuit courts hear most trials.  Currently, Illinois is divided into 23 judicial circuits.  Each circuit has a chief circuit judge, additional circuit judges, and associate judges.  Circuit judges are elected for a six-year term and may be retained by voters for additional six-year terms.  They can hear any circuit court case.  Associate judges are appointed by the circuit judges and serve terms of 4 years.

       An Illinois judge must be a U.S. citizen, an attorney licensed to practice in Illinois, and a resident of the district or circuit he or she serves.  

Articles VII-XIV (7-14)  

Article VII: Local Government
Article 7 gives rules for local governments--for counties, townships, and  cities.  Local governments are given limited powers to pass ordinances, or local laws.

Article VIII:  Finance
Article 8 states that public money and property can only be used for public purposes.  Article 8 explains how public funds are budgeted, spent and audited.
Article VIII:  Finance
Article 8 states that public money and property can only be used for public purposes.  Article 8 explains how public funds are to budgeted, spent and audited.
Article IX:  Revenue
Article 9 describes how the state can collect money (revenue) from the people through taxes on property, income, and sales. 
Article X:  Education
Article 10 provides for free public education for all Illinois residents through high school.
Article XI:  Environment
Article 11 gives the General Assembly power to insure a healthy environment for Illinois residents. 
Article XII:  Militia
Article 12 allows the General Assembly to form a state militia (military force) made up of Illinois citizens.  The Governor acts as commander-in-chief of the state militia. 
Article XIII:  General Provisions
Article 13 gives several rules for persons running or holding office in Illinois.  Article 13 also states that public transportation is an essential public service, one which the General Assembly can spend public money on. 
Article XIV:  Constitutional Revision
Article 14 explains how the Illinois Constitution can be changed.  Amendments to the Constitution may be proposed either by a Constitutional Convention or by the General Assembly.   If a Constitutional Convention is held to revise or amend the Constitution, a majority of Illinois voters must approve the changes.  If the amendments are proposed by the General Assembly, the amendments must be approved by three-fifths of the voters at the next general election.