Oct 11, 2022 - Politics

Trail Mix: Illinois' Supreme decision

Photo of a government building.

The Supreme Court Of Illinois Building, in Springfield. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Welcome to a special Tuesday edition of Trail Mix, our column covering all things Illinois and Chicago politics.

What's happening: It's rare to see so many attack ads for the Illinois Supreme Court race.

  • This year, it's because the court's majority hangs in the balance.

Why it matters: With two seats up for election, the state GOP could wrest away the Democratic majority. That could mean big issues like reproductive rights could be reviewed.

State of play: The court, which has seven justices serving 10-year terms, currently has a 4-3 Democratic majority.

  • Illinois is one of only eight states that elect state Supreme Court justices.
  • The Illinois GOP has not held majority control of the court since 1969.

The latest: Republican Supreme Court Justice Michael Burke was appointed in 2020 after the retirement of Justice Robert Thomas, making this his first election.

  • Appellate Court Justice Mary Kay O'Brien, a Democrat, is challenging.

Zoom in: O'Brien is using ads to attack Burke over abortion rights, but Burke's camp wants a retraction because he hasn't publicly stated a position.

  • In the other race, former Lake County Sheriff Michael Curran (GOP) and Lake County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Rochford (Democrat) are vying for the seat vacated by Justice Tom Kilbride, who was not retained by voters in 2020.

The intrigue: Republicans are going back to the Madigan playbook, accusing Rochford (and O'Brien) of being part of the corrupt Mike Madigan machine, even though Madigan hasn't been in office since early 2021.

  • It's very rare to see political ads attacking candidates together from separate races, but it's happening on both sides.

Of note: Chief Justice Anne Burke (Democrat and wife to Ald. Ed Burke) is retiring this year, but her seat isn't up for re-election. It's up in 2024. She will be succeeded by Appellate Court Justice Joy V. Cunningham.


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