SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – In Illinois, Supreme Court Justices are elected, and this year, millions of dollars are being thrown at the campaigns for the high court’s two open seats.

The amount of money and political attention on the spots warranted a unique response from some of the state’s top legal officials.

The IJA alongside 16 other Illinois judicial groups, called for more ‘judicial independence’ for Illinois’s election of judges ahead of the November election at a news conference Tuesday.

The current make-up of the seven-person Illinois Supreme Court is three judges who originally registered as Democrats and two judges originally registered as Republicans. Both Illinois political parties are vying for control of the state’s highest court. The other two spots are currently vacant, with a Republican and Democrat running for each seat.

The Supreme Court candidates have received several large donations, including $500,000 from Governor J.B. Pritzker’s campaign for both candidates registered as Democrats, Mary Kay O’Brien and Elizabeth Rochford. The candidates for Supreme Court justices registered as Republicans, Mike Burke and Mark Curran, have received several $100,000 donations to their group The Firewall Project.

In 2020, over 10 million dollars poured into both sides of a campaign for Justice Thomas Killbride’s retention.

Judges say political groups closely watching their decisions can intimidate them when deciding on important or controversial cases.

“The dominant role played by special interest money, including money from Super PACs financed by undisclosed donors, threatens the very principle of fair and impartial courts,” IJA president and appellate judge Eileen O’Neill Burke said.

The presidents of the Illinois State Bar Association and Chicago Bar Association criticized the political advertising for judicial races, saying are funded by special interest groups.

“If you’re going to buy an SUV for your family and your children, are you simply going to watch a television ad or read a blog written by some unknown writer out of Detroit?” Timothy Tomasik, Chicago Bar Association’s president, said. “Or are you going to look at the actual scientific engineering crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration? That’s what we as bar associations are asking you to do.”

Instead, they ask voters to read judicial reviews the ISBA and CBA publish. Hundreds of attorneys review an attorney or judge’s record based on eight criteria: integrity, legal expertise, professional experience, good judicial temperament, diligence and punctuality, good health, financial responsibility and community service. If more than 65% of attorneys recommend a judge, they get a recommendation from the bar association.  

The ISBA has judicial reviews on all judges up for election in the state on their website. Officials stress that their voting guide can be legally taken inside the voting booth.

The IJA also has published several YouTube videos that help voters break down key concepts of Illinois’ judicial system for voters.