With terms that last 10 years, it is uncommon to have two contested Illinois Supreme Court races in a single election cycle, but in November, two such races are taking place in suburban areas outside of Cook County, with potentially important results.
Republican Mark Curran, a former Lake County sheriff and prosecutor, and Democrat Liz Rochford, a former assistant state’s attorney and longtime Lake County Circuit Court judge, are the two candidates up for election in the northern collar counties.
In the southwestern suburbs, Democratic Mary Kay O’Brien, a former state representative and judge on the Appellate Court for almost 20 years, is running against incumbent Republican Supreme Court Justice Michael Burke.
State courts are receiving extra attention as a result of the Dobbs ruling, which invalidated the nation’s right to an abortion.
Candidates for judicial positions are prohibited from publicly endorsing positions on subjects that might be brought before them under a code of conduct.
They cannot “make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies, or issues within cases that are likely to come before the court” or “knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other facts concerning the candidate or an opponent.” They also cannot personally solicit or accept campaign contributions.
Every candidate WTTW News spoke with exercised caution, especially when it came to contentious issues like abortion and gun rights.
However, the candidates’ positions have been associated with TV advertisements that have been running prior to the election on November 8, particularly those supported by interest organisations.
Burke argued that it is incorrect and an unethical smear technique for a judicial race to suggest that he opposes abortion even in circumstances of child rape or incest.
I’m very careful about what I say because of the judicial canon. I can thus say with the utmost honesty and conviction that I never made those claims. Therefore, it is sheer fiction to attribute those words to me, and I believe that judicial campaigning should be above fabrication.
Burke claimed that while he was a member of a DuPage society of Catholic lawyers that had hosted a “red Mass” for people of all religions to pray for individuals in the legal profession, he was not a member of the Thomas More Society, a law company that has filed lawsuits to overturn abortion restrictions.
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(Burke is not related to Chicago Alderman Ed Burke or his wife, Chief Justice Anne Burke of the Illinois Supreme Court, who will retire at the end of the month.)
Michael Burke said he wished judges didn’t have to run as partisans. Burke is the son of a former Chicago police officer and the father of a cop, vocations he claimed are connected to his passion for public service.
“I value the judiciary’s independence from the other two branches of government, and I think this, running a political contest, somewhat links us together with the other two branches of government,” he remarked. “A great deal of what happens on the court really has nothing to do with politics,” But ultimately, the day-to-day work we do, running the courts, has nothing to do with partisan politics.
Justice Burke joined the court two years ago after being chosen to replace Justice Bob Thomas, a Republican who retired in 2020.
He claimed that among the ways he had demonstrated his competence as justice was by representing the high court on a lawyers’ group tasked with enhancing the treatment of mentally ill people in Illinois’ courts.
Democratic O’Brien claimed that her experience in the legislature gave her the finest viewpoint for a position charged with determining the validity of the laws that the General Assembly enacts.
O’Brien served on the audit commission and chaired the criminal justice committee as a state representative from 1996 to 2003. She also claimed to have sponsored legislation to update the grain insurance code and expand consumer access to generic medications.
O’Brien stated, “I believe that my experience as a practising attorney, having spent 19 years on the appellate court, as well as the depth and breadth of the type of work truly make me perfectly prepared for this post. “A lot is on the line. The state supreme courts will be making this decision as states start to examine laws pertaining to reproductive health and other matters.
She maintains that the commercials criticising Burke are not slander.
Beyond the fact that the Dobbs ruling does not represent constitutional rights, she claims she will not discuss her opinions on abortion in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
“The justices are applying the originalist doctrine because, in my opinion, if you look at where our nation was in the 1860s, women had no legal right to possess property after being married. They were unable to vote, she said. In order to determine where we should be now, we cannot merely look to the history of where our nation was at the time an amendment was passed.
To avoid being categorised, O’Brien says she doesn’t adhere to any one judicial theory.
The lockstep doctrine requires following federal precedent, she added, but “we don’t establish what the law is; we simply look at it, to see whether or not it fits within our state constitutional framework.”
As status hearings that determine whether children can be reunited with their families are too infrequent, O’Brien said she is passionate about altering how Illinois courts handle children who are wards of the state.
The controversial new state law known as the SAFE-T Act, which among other changes will eliminate cash bail beginning in January, imposes administrative duties on the Illinois Supreme Court in addition to issuing opinions. One of these administrative duties includes assisting lower courts with the implementation of major changes to the criminal justice system.
Given that multiple state attorneys have filed lawsuits to get the statute overturned, Burke said he won’t have a personal judgement on it, but he did say that the Supreme Court has been monitoring the situation and would be prepared.
Trial judges have a lot of latitude under the SAFE-T Act, according to O’Brien, who noted that she has worked with several “phenomenal ones” who are dedicated to ensuring public safety.
Republican candidate Curran for the 2nd District stated he was unable to comment on his position on the SAFE-T Act should it come before the Supreme Court.
However, he claimed that the rule will make it more difficult to track down individuals free on bail who have no motive to come to court without fear of losing their money, which is why law enforcement officials have voiced their concerns.
“Since there is nothing to stop them, the society and state will be infinitely less safe, and I believe this is why people simply look at it and dismiss it as absurd. The Democrats are doing a lot of strange stuff, according to Curran.
Curran claimed that he does not consider his political views to be conservative and that he adheres to Thomas Jefferson’s description of natural law.
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, unions, and organisations supporting abortion rights, as well as $500,000 each given to O’Brien and Rochford by the Democratic Party, have given the Democrats an advantage in both races’ financing.
Curran claimed that Rochford is a member of the Democratic machine and that this, along with her prior contributions to Ald. Ed Burke’s campaign demonstrates this. He claimed that he is running so that Illinois can have more “balance.”
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Regardless of your opinion of J.B. Pritzker, he is only giving [Rochford] money to ensure that there won’t be any obstacles in the way of anything he wants to accomplish. Even if (Republican candidate for governor) Darren Bailey was to win, Republicans would have enough votes to override any veto, so he couldn’t really enact any legislation, according to Curran. This is because Republicans hold a super-minority status in both the Illinois House and Illinois Senate. Therefore, electing me would change the Supreme Court from being 4-3 Democratic to 4-3 Republican, which would be the only way to avoid that from happening and maintain some balance in the state.
Given that she claimed Curran displayed “strong political views” on matters that might be litigated when he is the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020, Rochford advises people to be wary of him.
In turn, this poses a threat to the independence that is so crucial to the functioning of the courts, according to Rochford. “And that is always troubling because it does in fact reflect a commitment to a prospective outcome in a case,” he said.
Ads that purport to connect Rochford to the imprisoned former speaker of the Illinois House Michael Madigan, she claimed, are a “demonstration of desperation” and unfounded.
“At the core of my judicial philosophy is the notion that courts exist to serve, and that we must always act, decide, and treat others fairly. Additionally, Rochford added, “We must be creative, varied, and responsive.
She cited a recent example in which the courts were forced to switch from holding hearings in courtrooms to digital ones during the epidemic, led by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Rochford stated that she has translated her commitment to ensuring that everyone has access to justice—”especially the impoverished and the vulnerable”—by setting up support desks for families going through difficult times.
She said, “I took the lead on creating the first-of-its-kind courtroom in family law for self-represented litigants, to assist families without the financial resources to hire attorneys to navigate a complex legal system when everything they care about most – their children, their home, and their finances – is at risk.” Despite our amazing success, we are still growing.
One of the legal associations that ranks and assesses prospective judges is the Illinois State Bar Association.
O’Brien is “recommended,” Rochford and Burke are “highly recommended,” and
Curran was deemed “not recommended” by the ISBA.
Lawyers, according to Curran, dislike it when candidates for the highest court haven’t previously presided over cases in lower courts.
The trial lawyers, according to Curran, “recognise that I’m not always an ally, I’m going to call balls and strikes – so they don’t offer me any money, they don’t give me any support.” They account for a sizable portion of the bar association.
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