CHICAGO – Several politically connected Illinois judges have been appointed to judgeships after losing elections or dropping out of races, according to a report Sunday.
The Illinois Supreme Court appointed seven judges to the Cook County court system after they were rejected by voters, according to a story published Sunday in the Chicago Tribune. Five Democrats who lost in March have been appointed to judicial posts since then. The other two have been appointed in the last six years.
It’s a controversial practice that the state’s highest court has previously vowed to end.
However, the newspaper documented several instances of the practice continuing. In one case, an appointed judge gave more than $20,000 to the Cook County Democratic Party. Others had ties to powerful Chicago Democrats. The high court also reappointed three judges who dropped out of judicial races.
A spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court defended the appointments.
“The appointment of qualified candidates who already have some experience as a judge – even if though they may have lost a primary election – can be a useful way to replenish the bench with proven judicial talent until voters have another chance to choose in the next election,” said spokesman Joseph Tybor.
But critics argue that the court’s penchant for keeping nonelected judges on the bench lacks openness and could circumvent the will of voters.
“The Supreme Court should be less of a black box so you have an idea how they decide who should be a judge,” David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, told the Tribune. “Certainly, party affiliation and political donations should not be a factor. The point should be to find the most qualified and skilled lawyers to be on the bench.”
The Illinois’ Constitution provides the state supreme court the power to appoint judges to the bench when a public need is determined, such as after a retirement or death.
The high court pledged to end the so-called recall appointments when the Chicago Council of Lawyers threatened to sue in 1993. It made a similar commitment last year.