Judicial redistricting added to campaign contributions as concerns ahead of high-profile Illinois cases | Illinois


(The Center Square) – Attention on judicial integrity has been raised with the focus on $2 million in campaign contributions Gov. J.B. Pritzker made to two Illinois Supreme Court justice candidates who won in November. The court hears cases next week. In one high-profile case, Pritzker is a top defendant. 

Pritkzer downplayed his $1 million donation to each of two then-supreme court candidates who are now on the bench of seven. He gave half a million from each of his political campaign and his revocable trust to Supreme Court candidates Mary O’Brien and Elizabeth Rochford. That’s despite the governor signing into law last year limiting contributions to such campaigns to $500,000 from single individuals.

“If you’re suggesting that the fact that I gave money to let’s say the Democratic Party or the committees that supported candidates means that everybody who’s received any money has to recuse themselves from anything to do with the state of Illinois, that’s ridiculous,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event in Springfield. “And I’ve certainly never asked anybody to vote a certain way or decide on a case a certain way. I would never do that. I never have and I never will.”

Pritzker said the justices are independent jurists. 

Tuesday, the high court hears the appeal of a Kankakee County court’s ruling that the no-cash bail provision of the SAFE-T Act is unconstitutional. In May, justices hear oral arguments in the gun-ban challenge from Macon County where Pritzker is a lead defendant. 

In talking about ethics, state Rep. Blaine Whilhour, R-Beecher City, raised a red flag. 

“It’s important to point out that that kind of stuff is inappropriate, he did circumvent the rules basically by doing that, giving from different entities,” Wilhour said. “The governor should lead by example in those kinds of things.” 

State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said campaign spending is growing, but there are other issues of fairness like the judicial redistricting Democrats approved in 2021. 

“Let’s remember, 600,000 voters said we need to change how we deliver redistricting in the state of Illinois, [former Illinois Supreme Court Justice] Tom Kilbride was the deciding vote to squelch the wishes of those voters,” Spain said. 

Killbride lost retention before new districts were drawn and approved in 2021, which Spain said moved the courts more in Democrats’ favor. 

Longtime politics professor Kent Redfield said electing judges can cause problems. 

“Then the general public starts to think of judges once they get elected as any other elected official,” Redfield told The Center Square. 

Any appearance of conflict like campaign contributions can foster distrust in the judiciary, Redfield said.  

“That calls into people’s minds the legitimacy of the court in general or the specific rulings of the court,” he said. 

Changing Illinois’ elected judiciary into an appointed one would require a constitutional change but Redfield said appointing judges also has pitfalls of perceived bias.

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Caleb Alexander

Caleb Alexander

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