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Republicans and Democrats contest state Supreme Court seat once held by Thomas

When Democrats redrew the state’s Supreme Court districts last year for the first time in 58 years, they hoped the new map would keep their party’s majority on the court.

A longtime Democratic judge had just lost his seat, and his party’s lawmakers knew that maintaining their 4-3 dominance over the state’s highest court would force the party to win just one of the four districts in the running. outside of Cook County, which has already sent three trusted Democratic judges to the court.

But the retirement of a Republican judge has created a rare open-seat race in the northwest suburb’s 2nd District. And that could swing the Democratic court 4-3 into Republican hands — if the race in the 3rd District, where Democratic Judge Thomas Kilbride lost his retention bid two years ago, also turns Republican.

The 3rd arrondissement does not have a contested primary.

That’s a far cry from the 2nd District, where four Republicans and three Democrats are vying for the seat previously held for two decades by retired Judge (and former Chicago Bear) Bob Thomas. This district now covers much of northeastern Illinois, including DeKalb, Kendall, Kane, Lake, and McHenry counties.

Other confusing matters Republican Michael J. Burke, who was nominated to replace Thomas in 2020, is running in the newly redesigned 3rd District. Burke and Democrat Mary K. O’Brien will face off in the 3rd District for the seat previously held by Kilbride, who lost his bid for retention two years ago after Republicans portrayed him as the former House Speaker Mike “Madigan’s favorite judge” attacks the ads.

The new 2nd District race has taken on added significance as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to overturn Roe v. Wade protecting the right to abortion. None of the candidates would say how they would vote on related issues, but Democrats in the race have all signaled past support for abortion rights, and all but one of the Republicans have voiced their opposition to abortion.

The newly redesigned 2nd Judicial District for the Supreme Court of Illinois.

republican candidate Daniel Shanea Lake County Circuit Court judge for 16 years, said he had no intention of being a Supreme Court justice, but ‘looking back, everything I’ve done m prepared to do so”.

Shanes says he has the deepest judicial experience, reaching the title of associate chief justice after rising through the ranks to assistant state attorney in 1995. The Illinois State Bar Association rated it “highly recommended”. He was the only Republican to give no indication of his position on abortion.

RepublicanSusan HutchinsonIllinois Court of Appeals judge and rated “Highly Rated” by the state’s bar association, claims to have the most judicial experience with 41 years on the bench.

She’s interested in keeping kids out of divorce proceedings — something she set up in McHenry County after experiencing her parents’ divorce hearings when she was 9 years old.

At 72, she said she has ideas she could bring to the court, which is implementing administrative rules across the state, including reshaping other court districts so Rockford residents don’t don’t have to travel for arguments in Springfield.

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Republican primary candidates for the Illinois Supreme Court, left to right: Daniel Shanes, Susan Hutchinson, Mark Curran and John Noverini.

Republican John Noverini, a Kane County Circuit Court judge, says he is a “popular unestablished conservative” with a well-rounded background that includes decades as a business attorney. Elected judge of first instance in 2008 and retained twice, he says he has “a real record of public service”.

Noverini said he declined to be interviewed by the state bar organization because of his “wicked questions” and “clear conflict of interest” since the Supreme Court regulates attorneys. It was rated “not recommended”. Noverini calls himself an “originalist” who interprets the Constitution as it was meant to be understood by the founding fathers.

Republican Marc Curran, a former Lake County sheriff who ran for the U.S. Senate, said he was running for court because he felt “freedom was being eroded” and feared the major part of the Republican primary energy won’t be behind Shanes. Curran was an assistant state’s attorney in the 1990s, then was elected sheriff of Lake County as a Democrat.

Curran was never a judge, but said he made up for that with experience teaching constitutional law and as a prosecutor. He has “difficulty identifying as a Democrat or a Republican. I am guided by faith in my worldview. It is “not recommended” by the state bar association.

Democrat Elizabeth Rochforda Lake County judge, says she has “walked steadily toward this job for the past 30 years.”

First an assistant Cook County attorney, she moved into private practice, then spent 23 years as a commissioner of the Illinois Court of Claims and a judge for the past nine years. She sits on Illinois Supreme Court Advisory Committees that help provide better guidance and education to the court system.

Rochford is rated “highly recommended” by the Bar Association. She said experience has taught her that the state Supreme Court’s broad mandates must accommodate the variety of court systems across the state. “Lake County has a lot of resources, but others don’t. You have to be willing to make changes to achieve the same goal,” she said.

Democratic primary candidates for Illinois Supreme Court in the 2nd District, left to right: Elizabeth Rochford, Nancy Rotering and Rene Cruz.

Democratic primary candidates for Illinois Supreme Court in the 2nd District, left to right: Elizabeth Rochford, Nancy Rotering and Rene Cruz.

Democrat Nancy Rotering has no experience as a judge, but said she made up for that as mayor of Highland Park – what she called a “quasi-judicial role” – which gave her 12 years experience of work with the police. She also “knows what it takes” after defending the city‘s assault weapons ban against the National Rifle Association. “I think that translates well,” she said.

Rotering has not been phased by the Bar Association’s “not recommended” rating. “I’ve been in the public service industry for decades, so I have no connection to these lawyers,” she said.

Democrat Rene Cruz, a Kane County judge, would be the first Hispanic judge on the state’s highest court if elected. As a circuit court judge, Cruz helped bring diversity to the ranks of Kane County, where there are now five judges of color. This diversity “has translated to other offices” and can be seen even in the racial makeup of ushers, he said. Cruz is “recommended” by the Bar Association.

Cruz said he had administrative experience that others don’t have. He oversaw the transition to virtual court proceedings during COVID and recalled using the time-limited trial version of Zoom until the county purchased the appropriate licenses. “Nobody had a plan but I was able to double down on our efforts,” he said. Cruz also moved Kane County to use nearly all of the in-house interpreters, which saved the court money and improved the quality of translations, he said.

The primary races take place on June 28.