Election Day 2020 is more than a year away. Nevertheless, the race for the White House is already getting plenty of attention. In fact, it does not need more from today’s column.
Naturally, the presidential race receives the bulk of the media attention. However, I am reminded that other important offices will be on the ballot. Illinois voters may have an opportunity to vote in connection with the retention or election of a judge.
The reader may recall that judges sitting in the courts of the state of Illinois are, with one exception, elected. associate circuit judges are chosen by the elected circuit judges of the circuit they serve.
The remaining judges must be elected. They are elected for a specific term, which varies depending on the judicial office held. At the end of the term, a sitting judge can step down or seek retention. A judge who wishes to continue serving does not face an opponent. Rather, the judge’s name appears on the ballot and voters basically vote “Yes” or “No.” A “Yes” vote says the voter wants to keep the particular judge on the bench while the “No” vote indicates a preference that the judge be removed.
When there is a vacancy, the Illinois Supreme Court may appoint a person to fill it. However, if such an appointment is made, the person chosen serves only until an election can determine who will take over the office.
Throughout my legal career, there has been debate and discussion regarding the methods of selecting judges. There is no reason to revisit that discussion here. We deal with what is and that is a method that puts candidates for judicial office in the same position as candidates for the Legislature, Congress and any other political office.
While respecting our system, I would like to suggest some areas where voter caution is important.
Political parties have platforms that take positions on important issues. Candidates do not hesitate to tell us what they want to accomplish and how they intend to do it.
How many times have we heard a sentence that begins with, “If elected I promise to ” This is important. Knowing what a candidate wants to do will likely assist us in deciding who to choose.
A platform that might be adopted by a party likely will not fit a judicial candidate. Such a person cannot take positions or make promises other than to be honest, work hard, stay abreast of developments in the law, be unbiased, be respectful and the like.
Accordingly, voters should be vigilant in watching for false issues or statements that reflect favoritism toward a particular group.
I have had the pleasure of serving with some very fine judges. Some of these men and women are Democrats and others are Republicans. What I observed was a pattern of devotion to the rule of law rather than party stereotype.
In my experience, many judicial candidates have no political experience or connections. Realistically, they must choose to run as a Republican or Democrat, even if they have never been active in either party. The process forces non-politicians to become politicians until the voters have spoken.
Making an informed choice between competitors in a judicial race is not easy. It will require some effort. If you know the candidate, you probably have most of what you need to make your evaluation. If the candidates are not personally known, some investigation is required.
Certainly, we can ask lawyers and other people working in the legal system for an opinion. If a candidate has served as a judge, say an associate judge or circuit judge who was appointed as described above, that person will have shown if they have what it takes to be a good judge.
Voters can learn the reputation earned by the judge. If the candidate is a practicing lawyer, we have to project what kind of judge he or she will be based upon what the person has demonstrated in his or her legal practice. By asking around, we can learn about a person’s experience, skill level and temperament.
Persons who are elected to serve in the Illinois courts have an awesome responsibility and hold significant power. Once elected, they may serve for decades. We really should take a serious look at whomever ends up on the ballot, be it the primary or general election.
Beware of false issues or promises that call into question a person’s commitment to impartiality. Please learn as much as you can about the individuals running before you make your important decision.