Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Election/Retention of Illinois Supreme Court Justices


Just Under Half of U.S. States Elect their Supreme Court Justices
Different Procedures for Selection, Retention, and Terms

The Illinois Supreme Court is the last stop for many of the state's most controversial issues. From pension payments to redistricting reform, the Court's influence is undeniable. In order to better understand the makeup of this important part of the Illinois judicial system, ICPR's research team looked into how U.S. states select and retain their Supreme Court Justices, and how long they are asked to serve.
The Illinois Supreme Court is made up of seven Justices who are elected from five districts in the state.
By law, three of the Justices are always elected from the Cook County District. The other four Justices come from four districts outside of Cook County. Additionally, Illinois is one of 22 states to select their Justices in elections, but one of only of four states to do so with district-based rather than statewide elections. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kentucky also use district-based elections.
District-based elections date back to the 1848 Illinois Constitution. By 1870, amendments to the Constitution increased the size of the Illinois Supreme Court from three to seven Justices. In 1964, under the administration of Governor Otto Kerner Jr., the makeup, retention, and terms of the Illinois Supreme Court were significantly changed and approved by Illinois voters. The term length of Justices increased from 9 to 10 years, and retention elections were introduced. The same provision reduced the number of judicial districts from seven to five, but added a clause requiring three of the seven Justices to be elected from from Cook County. Mandating a single District to have a set proportion of the Court's members is not a practice used by any other states.

Supreme Court Selection Processes in U.S. States

Compiled by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

28 states use appointments to select Justices. Usually, the appointment decision is left to the Governor, but Virginia and South Carolina grant that power to state legislators instead. All states that rely on appointments also use a nominating commission before and/or a confirmation vote afterwards. Nominating commissions vary widely across states. Some are made up of existing state agencies, while others have specific membership requirements. The confirmation vote usually occurs in the State Senate, but some states, like Connecticut, require confirmations in both chambers.
Members of the Illinois Supreme Court can only keep their positions by winning retention elections. Retention elections are yes/no referendums on the justice’s performance. An incumbent Justice simply requires a yes-vote majority to stay in power. Retention elections, unlike Illinois’ unique selection process, are common. 20 states use some form of retention election.

Supreme Court Retention Processes in U.S. States

Compiled by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

As an example, most retention elections occur in states where Justices were appointed to the Court. Certain states send Justices back to the Governor, commission, or General Assembly for reassessment at the end of their term. New Hampshire and Massachusetts do not reassess their judicial selections, as their Justices are permitted to serve until the mandatory retirement age of 70. Rhode Island is the only state that grants their Justices a genuine life term.
The term length for Justices in Illinois is 10 years, which is fairly common. Nearly half the country uses term lengths of 8 or 10 years. All states have term limits between 6 and 14 years, except for the three aforementioned New England states and New Jersey. New Jersey is an outlier when it comes to term lengths. After being appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, Justices are given a provisionary term of 7 years. Upon reappointment by the governor and reconfirmation by the senate, Justices are granted a second term lasting until the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Supreme Court Term Lengths in U.S. States

Compiled by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform

How Illinois Compares
Overall, Illinois' selection and retention procedures for Supreme Court Justices are unlike most other states in two key ways. First, Illinois elects Supreme Court Justices in District Elections rather than Statewide Elections. This is only done by three other states in the nation. Furthermore, Illinois requires that three of its seven Justices come from Cook County, a specific designation based on geography. This is not a practice used by any other state. Secondly, Illinois uses retention elections rather than competitive elections to retain its Justices. Most other states that require competitive elections to select Justices also require competitive elections to retain them. Taking these two issues into consideration, the question remains as to whether or not these procedures may have an impact on major and controversial decisions facing Illinois.
We would like to hear from you! Do you think the current Illinois Supreme Court selection and retention procedures are the best for our state? Send your comments to outreach@ilcampaign.org or reply to this email.
Contact: Sarah Brune at 312-436-1274 or sarah@ilcampaign.org

No comments: