Since 1969, the Illinois Supreme Court has had a Democratic majoritybut that might change after the Nov. 8 elections.
Should Gov. JB Pritzker be re-elected and the Illinois Supreme Court flips to Republican control, those justices could place roadblocks on his agenda. They also may roll back already enacted state laws that enshrine LGBTQ+ and abortion rights, gun control measures and other social and economic issues passed by the Democratic supermajority in the Illinois state legislature over the years.
Conversely, if Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey wins his election, this potential new conservative court may also help him with his political agenda.
Article VI of the Illinois Constitution states that the Illinois Supreme Court consists of seven justices who are elected from five judicial districts. Cook County makes up the first district and has three justices (all of whom are Democrats) while the remaining four districts (drawn based on county boundaries) have one apiece. Republicans control districts four and five and are not up for re-election this year. All but district one was redrawn after the 2020 Census. Only the residents that reside in each specific district can vote for these candidates.
This year, the 10-year terms for the second and third Supreme Court districts are up and whomever wins each of these races will be on the bench for at least the next ten years. The winders of these two elections would only face a retention vote in 2032.
Democratic candidate and 19th Circuit Court Associate Judge Elizabeth Rochford is facing off against Republican candidate and former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran in the second Supreme Court district while Democratic candidate and nearly 20-year Third District Appellate Court Judge Mary Kay O'Brien is facing off against Republican Second Supreme Court District Justice Michael Burke.
Burke is currently the Second Supreme Court District Justice but was re-districted into the Third Supreme Court District for this election cycle.
DeKalb, Kane, Kendall, Lake and McHenry counties make up the second Supreme Court district. Bureau, DuPage, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee, LaSalle and Will counites make up the third Supreme Court district. Democratic U.S. House Reps. Sean Casten, Bill Foster and Lauren Underwood currently represent parts of each of these districts.
Among Curran's many statements and actions was attending an anti-abortion rally at Federal Plaza in December 2021. He also circulated now-debunked claims about widespread voter fraud in multiple states during the 2020 presidential elections before later acknowledging that President Joe Biden won that election.
Curran also stated in a Facebook post on Dec. 12, 2020, that he agreed with now former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard regarding banning transgender women from Title IX sports. Also, in a Sept. 22, 2020, audio interview with Illinois Family Action he linked the "transgender movement" to pedophiles and said their goal was to be able to go into women's bathrooms and "rape little girls." In that same Illinois Family Action interview, Curran also stated that he opposes the LGBTQ Equality Act and transgender-inclusive military service.
In another Facebook post dated Oct. 10, 2021, Curran stated that aside from his wife, Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller is his second favorite woman. Curran posted that after Miller stated her opposition to transgender students accessing bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Curran responded to a question on Facebook about same-sex marriage on June 26, 2020, in a now-deleted post with this statement, "I was against gay marriage. Apparently, it is the law of the land. I am a daily communicant that believes religious liberty is a big deal." He also sent a 2013 letter to Republican state Rep. Ed Sullivan in 2013 where he said same-sex marriage was not in the best interests of children or society, would result in the loss of liberty for those opposed to same-sex marriage and suggested it would negatively impact public safety.
Additionally, on Curran's campaign website he emphasizes his Roman Catholic identity very prominently and uses the word faith multiple times to describe himself and his political philosophy.
Curran does not list any endorsements on his campaign website.
Burke has not stated his positions on the issues other than during a July 28, 2022, interview with Jeff Berkowitz he stated that he is an originalist when it comes to the Constitution. Additionally, Burke also said in that same Berkowitz interview that "there is no enumerated right to privacy in the U.S. or Illinois State Constitutions."
These statements happened after the June 24, 2022, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (Dobbs) U.S. Supreme Court 6-3 majority opinion that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. The Dobbs decision left the right to abortion access to the states and since then several Republican-controlled states have enacted abortion bans.
Additionally, Burke has attended four Right to Life banquets since 2019 as a sitting Illinois Supreme Court Justice and is slated to attend another one on Friday, October 14.
Among Burke's endorsements are many suburban Republican state's attorney's, sheriff's and Illinois state House and Senate members.
The statewide LGBTQ+ non-profit Equality Illinois has taken the unprecedented step of endorsing Rochford and O'Brien to become Illinois' next Supreme Court Justices.
"Equality Illinois has not traditionally engaged in judicial races, but the alarm bells are ringing loudly for our democracy and our rights," said Equality Illinois Board Chair Justin DeJong in a statement to the media. "That is why we today are proud to endorse Judge Elizabeth Rochford and Judge Mary Kay O'Brien for Justices on the Illinois Supreme Court. We are confident Judge Rochford and Judge O'Brien will ensure every person receives equal protection and due process under the law and that they will also protect the tenets of democracy."
"For voters in the 2nd and 3rd Judicial Districts, we urge all who care about LGBTQ+ equality and justice to vote for Rochford and O'Brien," added Equality Illinois CEO Brian C. Johnson in a statement to the media. "Vote like your rights depend on this election. Because they do."
The Chicago abortion-rights group Personal PAC, Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, Illinois NOW, Gun Violence Prevention Action Committee, Illinois AFL-CIO and the Illinois Federation of Teachers have also endorsed Rochford and O'Brien. Additionally, both candidates are endorsed by numerous Democratic elected officials and other organizations.
"On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that anti-choice zealots have every right to ban abortion, under all circumstances, for all women, for all time," said Personal PAC President and CEO Terry Cosgrove in an email statement to Windy City Times. "Stopping women from accessing contraception and IVF, as well as preventing them from receiving life-saving medical care for miscarriage management, ectopic pregnancies and other medical emergencies, is now in full view at the top of their agenda. And that is exactly what these unbound extremists will do in Illinois unless you and I stop them on Nov. 8.
"These right-wingers are counting on you not believing it could happen here in Illinois. The Republican candidates running for two Illinois Supreme Court seats, Mark Curran and Michael Burke, are endorsed by the most extreme anti-choice statewide organizations, anti-choice donors and other right-wing elected officials precisely for all these reasons. If Burke and Curran win, the Illinois Supreme Court will be controlled by justices who mirror Trump's Supreme Court. Right-wing lawsuits have been filed to overturn the Illinois pro-choice laws we fought so hard to achieve over the past few years and are now awaiting a hearing."
"The Illinois NOW PAC has not endorsed judicial candidates for many election cycles as we do not have the capacity," Illinois NOW President Laura Welch emailed Windy City Times. "However, it is imperative that we endorse Judge Rochford in the Illinois 2nd Supreme Court district and Judge O'Brien in the 3rd this year. We must elect pro-choice Supreme Court Justices so that our rights for self-determination remain intact.
"Judge Rochford, who is rated 'highly recommended' by the Illinois State Bar Association is the only candidate in the 2nd District who has any judicial experience. We know that Judge Rochford is a staunch champion for women's rights, gun safety and LGBTQIA rights. Her opponent, Mark Curran, not only has no judicial experience, and he is rated as 'not recommended' by the Illinois Bar Association. If having no judicial experience is not enough to disqualify him from the Illinois State Supreme Court, his openly anti-choice, anti-immigrant and Black Lives Matter is an 'evil entity' opinion should end the conversation.
"Judge O'Brien is a firm believer that women should make their own decisions regarding keeping a pregnancy or having an abortion, she will also ensure that the rights of LGBTQIA folks are upheld, that racial justice and equity will be ensured and that young victims of sexual assault will get the justice they need. In contrast, Justice Burke who currently serves on the Illinois Supreme Court, is openly anti-choice having been a member of the pro-birth Thomas Moore Society, a group that sued to invalidate Illinois' 2019 abortion rights laws.
"We know that the right to an abortion will affect every aspect of the life and future of pregnant people. The ability to continue an education, feed a family and have financial independence cannot be separated from this right. By retaining a pro-choice Illinois Supreme Court, we can ensure that everyone in our state will retain their ability to determine their own future."
When reached for comment, neither Curran nor Burke responded to queries about their previous statements and actions regarding LGBTQ+- and abortion-rights issues.
"In the coming years, the Illinois Supreme Court will rule on some of the most important issues facing our state, and that is why we need qualified, experienced justices serving on the highest bench," Rochford emailed Windy City Times. "I believe that my decade as a Lake County Judge and service in and around the courts have prepared me for this role, and I am proud that the Illinois State Bar Association agrees, rating me 'highly recommended.' We cannot let this position fall to my opponent, who has never been a judge, is rated 'not recommended,' and is an anti-choice and anti-same sex marriage extremist."
"My entire career has been rooted in public service," said O'Brien in an email statement to Windy City Times. "From running a small law practice, serving as a state Representative where I worked on laws to protect victims of domestic violence and expungement reform and serving as an Appellate Court Judge and hearing over 4,500 cases - I have seen every side of the law. My experience is unmatched. Voters know what's at stake in this election and they will get down to the bottom of the ballot to support two highly qualified women to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court."