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Illinois Supreme Court

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Illinois Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1818
Chief:  $
Associates:  $
Judicial selection
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Active justices

Robert Thomas  •  Lloyd Karmeier  •  Charles Freeman  •  Rita Garman  •  Thomas Kilbride  •  Mary Jane Theis  •  Anne M. Burke  •  

Seal of Illinois.png

The Illinois Supreme Court is the highest court in Illinois. The court includes seven justices who are elected in partisan elections.


The current justices of the court are:
Justice Robert Thomas2000-2020Republican
Justice Lloyd Karmeier2004-12/1/2024Republican
Justice Charles Freeman1990-2020Democratic
Chief Justice Rita Garman2001-2022Republican
Justice Thomas Kilbride2000-2020Democratic
Justice Mary Jane Theis2010-2022Democratic
Justice Anne M. Burke2006-2018Democratic


The court has limited original jurisdiction, hears appeals of right in death penalty cases and cases where the constitutionality of laws has been called into question, and has a docket of discretionary appeal from the Illinois Appellate Court. Along with the state legislature, the court promulgates court rules for the state as a whole. The Supreme Court has general administrative and supervisory authority over all courts in the state. This authority is exercised by the Chief Justice with the assistance of the Administrative Director and staff appointed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts and may exercise original jurisdiction in cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition or habeas corpus. Also, its members have the authority to appoint trial judges to the appellate court on a temporary basis.[1]

Judicial selection

Main article: Illinois Supreme Court elections
File:Appellate districts in Illinois.jpg
The court's five judicial districts

Justices on the court run for ten-year terms in partisan elections. Each justice represents one of the five Supreme Court judicial districts in Illinois; the First District which consists of Cook County and Chicago, elects three of the justices; the remaining four choose one each.[2] To be reelected, the justice must run in an uncontested, non-partisan retention election, whereby the justice must win at least 60% of the vote to be retained. After an appointment, the justice must run for a full term at the next general election in a partisan election that is more than 60 days after the appointment.[3] The current political landscape of the Supreme Court of Illinois consists of four justices elected on the Democratic ticket, and three justices elected on the Republican ticket.


To be considered eligible to be a Judge or Associate Judge, a person must be a United States citizen, a license attorney of Illinois, and a resident of the district which selects the Judge.[4] Additionally, "No change in the boundaries of a unit shall affect the tenure in office of a Judge or Associate Judge incumbent at the time of such change."

Removal of justices

"Illinois judges may be removed in one of two ways:

  • The judicial inquiry board files complaints with the courts commission. After notice and hearing, the commission may reprimand, censure, suspend, retire, or remove a judge.
  • Judges may be impeached by a majority vote of the house of representatives and removed by a two-thirds vote of the senate."[5]


Year Filed Disposed
2010 3,014 2,922
2009 2,729 2,897
2008 2,955 2,825
2007 2,836 2,962
2006 2,992 3,048



Illinois supreme court justices, both the associate justices and the chief justice, make $207,066 annually as of 2011.[7]

Notable decisions

Blagojevich suit

In December 2008, three citizens filed suit in the Supreme Court in the case Bambenek et al v. Milorad R. Blagojevich concerning the ability of Governor Rod Blagojevich to continue serving in office after his arrest on corruption charges. The Court is asked to consider ruling Blagojevich unfit to serve pursuant to the "other disability" clause of the Illinois Constitution, Article V, Section 6(b). The full name of the case is "John C. Bambenek, Adam Andrzejewski, and John Tillman, citizens of the state of Illinois v. Milorad R. Blagojevich, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Illinois." The text of the brief can be viewed here. On December 17, 2008, the Supreme Court denied, without comment, hearing this suit as well as an identical suit filed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan.[8]

Certification of Burris appointment

The appointment of United States Senator-Designee Roland Burris is making its way to the Illinois Supreme Court. The case seeks to compel Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to sign the certification papers of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, during a January 7, 2009 press conference, cited a Senate rule dating back to the 1800's that requires both the certification of the Governor and Secretary of State.[9]

On Janauary 9, 2009 the Illinois Supreme Court voted unanimously to refuse to compel Secretary of State Jesse White of Illinois to sign the document that would make his Senate Appointment official pursuant to rules of the United States Senate.[10]

In issuing the ruling, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier said White's signature was not needed for Burris to be seated in the Senate.

"We note ... that nothing in the published rules of the Senate, including Rule II, appears to require that Senate appointments made by state executives pursuant to the 17th Amendment must be signed and sealed by the state's secretary of state. Moreover, no explanation has been given as to how any rule of the Senate, whether it be formal or merely a matter of tradition, could supersede the authority to fill vacancies conferred on the states by the federal constitution. Under these circumstances, the Senate's actions cannot serve as the predicate for a mandamus action against the secretary of state. The only issue before us is whether the secretary of state, an official of this state, failed to perform an act required of him by the law of Illinois. He did not." [10]

Despite the ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court, it would still be of the discretion of the United States Senate to determine if Burris the former Attorney General of Illinois would be seated as the junior senator for the State of Illinois[10].

File:IL Courthouse exterior.jpg
Illinois Supreme Court building

History of the court

The court was founded in 1818 in Article IV of the Illinois Constitution. The court's authority is granted in Article VI of the current Illinois Constitution, which provides for seven justices elected from the five appellate judicial districts of the state. The district encompassing Cook County is represented by three justices, while the other four districts elect one each. Each justice is elected for a term of ten years and the chief justice is elected by the court from its members for a three-year term.


On December 3, 1818, President Monroe signed legislature to allow Illinois to enter the Union as a state. Article IV of the Illinois constitution provides for the judicial system in the state. The court had appellate jurisdiction in all cases other than cases involving revenue, mandamus, habeas corpus and impeachment. In these cases the Supreme Court had original jurisdiction. Judges were to be appointed by the General Assembly. In 1841, after being legislated in and out of existence, all circuits were dissolved with legislation. To uphold the caseload, five new Supreme Court justices were appointed to augment the court. This system remained until 1848 when the second Illinois Constitution was adopted.[11]

The Constitution of 1848

In 1848, the Illinois Constitution was amended, and Article V established a Supreme Court with only three judges. The court convened only one time annually in each division. The judges were elected for nine-year terms by popular vote, and represented each of the three divisions of the state. This Supreme Court had original jurisdiction in cases of revenue, mandamus, habeas corpus, and impeachment, and appellate jurisdiction in all other cases. Nine circuits were established with the amended constitution, with one judge per circuit.[11]

Constitution of 1870

The constitution of 1870 provided seven judges with seven districts for the Supreme Court, and maintained jurisdiction as previously enumerated. The term of office was nine years. "It was to hold annual terms in each of the three grand divisions established by the 1848 Constitution, and one or more terms at Chicago, if suitable quarters were provided. Four judges constituted a quorum and the concurrence of four was necessary for a decision. Districts could be changed by law to maintain equality in population, but must be composed of contiguous counties." The Constitution of 1870 remained until adoption of the 1970 Constitution.[11]

Constitution of 1970

The Judicial Article (Article VI) of the 1970 Constitution decreased the Supreme Court's mandatory appellate jurisdiction. Appeals from the circuit courts were directed to the Supreme Court only when considering the death sentence. Appeals from the Appellate Court to the Supreme Court were made in only two instances. The first, if a constitutional question is presented as a result of an action of the Appellate Court. The other is if the Appellate Court itself determines that the case should be determined by the Supreme Court. The 1970 Constitution increased the supervisory and administrative authority of the Supreme Court, as well.[11]

Chief justice

The court's chief justice is elected by the court from its members for a three-year term.

Previous chief justices were:

  • Howard Ryan (1981-1984)
  • Roy Solfisburg (1967-1969; 62-63)
  • John Culbertson (1969)
  • Ray Klingbiel (1964-1967; 56-57)
  • Byron House (1959-60)
  • Joseph Daily (1958-59; 51-52)
  • William Fulton (1944-45)
  • Charles Craig (1916-17)
  • John Hand (1907 & 1903)
  • Carroll Boggs (1900-01)

Notable firsts

Reform proposals

In the years since the convention of 1970, there have been multiple attempts to reform the court, and specifically to change the method of judicial selection. Proponents have included the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the League of Women Voters of Illinois. None of these efforts were successful.[12]

Reappointments in Cook County

The Supreme Court has been found to be using its recall power to put a number of Cook County Circuit Court judges back in office, contrary to voters' decisions at the polls. A review by the Chicago Tribune found that, since 2000, the Supreme Court had reappointed 18 judges to the Cook County Circuit Court who had been ousted by voters. Some say that this practice, which has gone on for a long time, violates the will of the voters. In 1993, the court promised to stop. In August of 2011, a court spokesman said that the justices decided to end the practice months ago, though critics are still skeptical.[13]


Election 2012

CandidateIncumbencyPartyPredecessorPrimary VoteElection Vote
PucinskiAurelia Marie Pucinski    NoDemocraticVacancy of Thomas Fitzgerald21% 
RileyJames G. Riley    NoRepublicanVacancy of Thomas Fitzgerald25.3%   DefeatedD
CunninghamJoy Cunningham    NoDemocraticVacancy of Thomas Fitzgerald23% 
TheisMary Jane Theis   ApprovedAYesDemocraticVacancy of Thomas Fitzgerald48%ApprovedA74.7%   ApprovedA
GarmanRita Garman   ApprovedAYesRepublicanExpression error: Unexpected > operator.   ApprovedA
FlanniganThomas W. Flannigan    NoDemocraticVacancy of Thomas Fitzgerald7% 

External links

IllinoisIllinois Supreme CourtIllinois Appellate CourtIllinois Circuit CourtUnited States District Court for the Central District of IllinoisUnited States District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisUnited States District Court for the Southern District of IllinoisUnited States Court of Appeals for the Seventh CircuitIllinois countiesIllinois judicial newsIllinois judicial electionsJudicial selection in IllinoisIllinoisTemplatewithoutBankruptcy.jpg