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ELECTIONS 2024: JUDICIAL IL Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham discusses running for a full 10-year term
by Carrie Maxwell

This article shared 9292 times since Fri Feb 16, 2024
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Current Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham is running for a full 10-year term this year, following her appointment on Dec. 1, 2022 to the First District seat. Cunningham's appointment was the result of Chief Justice Anne M. Burke's retirement; she joined two other Democrats (Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis and Justice P. Scott Neville Jr.) who all represent the Cook County designated First District.

Cunningham is running against challenger and current First District, Fourth Division Illinois Appellate Court Justice Jesse G. Reyes in the March 19 primary.

The Illinois Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority following the 2022 election victories for Justices Elizabeth Rochford (Second District) and Mary Kay O'Brien (Third District). Cunningham is one of three Black Justices on the Illinois Supreme Court.

Cunningham grew up in New York City in a working class family. She received her B.S. in nursing from the City Colleges of New York and later a J.D. from the John Marshall Law School.

Following a brief nursing career, Cunningham served in the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Civil Division; was Illinois First District Appellate Court Justice Glenn T. Johnson's law clerk; and was also an associate attorney at a civil litigation boutique law firm. She left that law firm to become Loyola University Chicago's associate general counsel and chief counsel for healthcare from 1986 to 1996.

For the next four years, Cunningham served as a Cook County Circuit Court associate judge. From 2000-2006, Cunningham was Northwestern Memorial Healthcare's senior vice-president, general counsel and corporate secretary. Then, in 2006, Cunningham was elected as First District Appellate Court Justice and was retained by the voters in 2016, where she served until her appointment in 2022 to the Illinois Supreme Court.

She has been recognized by the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Chicago Association for the Education of Young Children and the March of Dimes for her service to those organizations. Cunningham has also previously volunteered for Planned Parenthood.

Additionally, Cunningham has been rated highly qualified by the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association; highly recommended by the Cook County Bar Association and Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois and recommended by the Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago, the Arab American Bar Association and the Asian American Bar Association of Greater Chicago.

From 2004-2005, Cunningham was the Chicago Bar Association president, the first Black woman to lead America's largest municipal bar association. She has also been member of the Chicago Bar Foundation, Center for Conflict Resolution, Center for Disability and Elder Law and the Chicago Legal Clinic's board of directors at various points in her career.

Whomever wins this primary will be unopposed in the November General Election. There is no Republican running for this seat.

Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run for a full 10-year term this year?

Joy Cunningham: When I was appointed, it was because the Illinois Supreme Court felt I could do the job. Out of the 24 people who were appellate court justices, they selected me because of my qualifications to succeed Justice Burke. It is incumbent on me to continue in this role. I feel like I am doing something meaningful that makes a difference. In that regard, I would have continued serving on the appellate court had I not been tapped for the Supreme Court, because I am committed to this public service role no matter what court I serve on. I want to continue doing this service as a Supreme Court justice. I take this responsibility seriously.

WCT: You previously ran in 2012 to permanently fill the seat left by the vacancy of Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald but lost to your current colleague Justice Mary Jane Theis, who was the incumbent appointee at the time. What have you learned about campaigning since that time?

JC: I learned that incumbency matters and is immensely helpful because it lets the voters know you can do the job. Also, once you are in this role, you understand what it means to do the job and that it is something different than you thought it was looking in from the outside.

I understand the electoral landscape better and my reach in the community over the past 12 years has broadened extensively because of my focus and perspective. I like to talk to people about the court system, because most of them don't understand it. This has helped my campaign because many of my supporters have come from those interactions with them, so they know what my capabilities are.

WCT: What differentiates you from your Democratic primary challenger First District, Fourth Division Illinois Appellate Court Justice Jesse G. Reyes?

JC: I have served at all three levels of the court system, and am the incumbent in this race. I have a tremendous amount of support from my peers. At the end of this past court year, we had four new justices so we did a little assessment and I got high marks from my colleagues. I am a known quantity.

My opponent is telling people he can do the job, and maybe he can, but we do not know. I think the stakes are pretty high and it is not the kind of thing we should be gambling with "just because." In my view, there should be a really compelling reason to oust an incumbent who is doing a good job to allow somebody else to show you whether they can do the job. That does not seem like a rational thing to do.

My work experience is vastly broader and deeper than my opponent. I bring public and private sector experience to the table and have done many different kinds of judicial and legal service jobs.

WCT: How has your previous positions as a First Appellate Court justice, trial court judge, lawyer and nurse guided your decision-making process in your current role as an Illinois Supreme Court Justice?

JC: Being a lawyer is a second career for me. I worked as an ICU nurse while going to law school. At the time, I was a day student so I worked two nights a week for 12 hour shifts, and that is not an easy thing to do, but it taught me patience, how to listen and the ability to problem-solve. Also, how to interact with and have empathy for people when they are at their lowest ebb, really sick people who find themselves in certain circumstances through no fault of their own, as well as their families. All of those things are essential qualities that every judge should have.

WCT: I see that you attended the Equality Illinois gala this year. Why was that important for you to do?

JC: I consider myself to be a friend of the LGBTQ+ community. I have the endorsement of my longtime friend Art Johnston, who is, in my view, one of the fathers of the marriage equality law and architect of civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community in Illinois. Also, Dalila Fridi, who was the Equality Illinois board chair when the marriage equality law was passed in Illinois. Our friendship goes back decades. I have been attending the gala regularly, before I was ever running for anything, because it is important to people who are very close to me and is certainly important to me.

WCT: Are there any endorsements you want to highlight?

JC: Personal PAC, SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFSCME, AFL-CIO and the Firefighters, Plumbers and Ironworkers unions. Also, many elected officials including Congressional Reps. Danny Davis, Jan Schakowsky, Robin Kelly and Jonathan Jackson; Illinois state Senate President Don Harmon; Illinois Speaker of the House Chris Welch; state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz; Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul; Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias; former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Calvin Jordan, the chair and vice-chair of the Cook County Democratic Party; and Mike Rodriguez, the leader of the 22nd Ward progressive Latine organization. I have also received endorsements from over 100 other progressive organizations.

WCT: What else would you like voters to know about you?

JC: I consider myself to be the Supreme Court justice for all of the people of Cook County regardless of your race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, which country you came from and/or what your religion is. I am capable, competent and ready to do this job for the next 10 years.

I also want to remind people to go out and vote on March 19, no matter if you choose me or not. Exercising your right to vote is the most important thing you do as a citizen, especially people of color and other marginalized community members.

See and

NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This article shared 9292 times since Fri Feb 16, 2024
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