In Recognition of Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke
By Neil Hartigan, former Illinois Attorney General
For the last 60 years I’ve been involved in public life, I’ve known many talented people who’ve made important contributions, but only a few are exceptional people. One of those is Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke, who as an elected justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois has just been chosen by her fellow justices as the new chief justice. She’s the perfect choice.
The role of the chief justice is a multifaceted one. She will lead the court in deciding the law on the most and important questions confronting our state. The judicial record and reputation are important. Fortunately, Justice Burke’s 30-year record of judicial experience is outstanding.
She has served for 12 years on the Supreme Court, 11 years on the Appellate Court, 7 years on the court of claims, where she was the first woman judge to sit on that court. She was appointed by former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson and re-appointed by former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.
Before serving on the Illinois Appellate Court, Gov. Edgar appointed Chief Justice Burke to provide in-depth leadership in reshaping and improving the Illinois juvenile justice system. Subsequently, the governor appointed her as special counsel for child welfare services.
In all of her judicial responsibilities, Chief Justice Burke enjoys a reputation for her commitment to the rule of law. A legal scholar, she has earned the respect and trust of her fellow justices for her integrity, ethics, cooperative spirit, hard work and courage in the support of her principles.
She has won elections to the Appellate and Supreme Courts, where she has received the votes of 2 million Illinoisans as well as the endorsements of the press and the “highest quality rating” from over 30 bar associations. Her campaigns were chaired by many of the most respected members of the bar, including Sen. Dawn Clarke Netsch, Newton Minow and Abner Mikva.
Every judge and lawyer in the state, including myself, would be delighted if their lifetime resumés resembled that of Chief Justice Burke. She has received doctorate honoris causa from 13 universities and law schools. She was appointed as the first chairperson of the very distinguished National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The board investigated accusations as well as the cause and effects of the clerical sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Their report pulled no punches; it contained guidelines and policies for effectively responding to the scandal across the United States for priests and bishops. The report was a very tough one and Chief Justice Burke was criticized by some senior church officials, but she and her board were right in pursuing and exposing the truth.
Her accomplishments go on and on. Her awards are in the hundreds, a small sample of which are: The Learned Hand Award from the Federal Bar Association, Abraham Lincoln Award from the Illinois State Bar Association, the John Paul Stevens Award from the Chicago Bar Association, and the Thurgood Marshall Award. Every disability, educational and social service groups have given her the most important awards, as have the 14 major ethnic groups. She was also recognized in Chicago Magazine’s “47 Smartest Chicagoans of All Time,” and Crain’s “Most Influential Women.” She also received the Living Proof Pilot Award from Rush Neurobehavioral Center. Her record goes on and on.
But oftentimes the public knows the name of a public official but not much more. Who are they? What are they really about? What are their values? The best way to answer that question is to remember that she’s the person who created the Special Olympics. How did she do it? What happened between then and her appointment to a judgeship years later by former Gov. Thompson?
Anne McGlone grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. She didn’t come from money or power. Her parents were Irish immigrants who worked hard to give their four children a good home, filled with love. They couldn’t give them much in the way of worldly goods, but they gave them more important things—a good set of values to live by. Anne went to Maria High School, where she excelled in sports as well as she did in the Chicago Park District competitions. In school, however, she was a “C” student. She had trouble reading what was written on the blackboard. It was a blur. She read backwards, from right to left and wrote her name the same way. It was later, as a freshman at George Williams College, that she was diagnosed as having perceptual handicap—better known as dyslexia, which is a neurological learning disability. It is not something you can grow out of. It has persisted during Chief Justice Burke’s lifetime. There is a need for accommodation since it doesn’t diminish, it simply changes.
George Williams College was good for Anne. She majored in physical education and worked as a camp counselor. Unfortunately, the college moved to a far western suburb, which she couldn’t attend without a car, which she couldn’t afford. Fortunately, when one door closes, Anne knew how to find and open another one. She was a “Park Kid,” so she took and passed a civil service exam and earned a job as a recreation leader in the Chicago Park District. She was assigned to West Pullman Park and put in charge of an experimental program teaching physical education to mentally disabled children and young adults. It was a perfect match. As an athlete herself, she knew the thrill of competition and the joy of winning. She recognized the positive impact sports had on her students. Participation could make all of the children winners. Her insight came from her heart and her life experiences with dyslexia. She saw her kids as champions, as special athletes. They had the same dreams, goals of achievement, they loved to compete, they loved to win, they loved to be told “good job”. Her program was a success and drew the attention of William McFetridge, the president of the Chicago Park District Board. She asked that the program be expanded to ten more parks for better competition and it was approved.
But what Anne McGlone really wanted was a city-wide competition for all the special athletes in Chicago. She had a vision it should be. The greatest event in sports was the Olympics, so she married that name to her special athletes and proposed a Special Olympics. I was the attorney general for the park district when I saw a young 21-year-old girl named Anne McGlone come into the Chicago Park District and in two years create and convince the Chicago Park District to authorize her to conduct the first Special Olympics in history. It was literally a miracle. The bureaucracy of the park district had never researched, funded, and implemented a major city-wide program in only two years. The odds were 1,000-1 against her. She didn’t care. She was a fighter who never, ever would quit on her special kids.
Naturally she wanted an iconic setting for the Olympics, so she asked for and got Soldier Field, which was the site of some of America’s greatest sporting events.
Next, she made the Special Olympics a nationwide event. On July 18, 1968, 2,000 proud special Olympians, from 26 states, led by marching bands with banners flying high to designate each group, entered Soldier Field and competed in 200 separate events.
History was made on that field that day, and now 50 years later the Special Olympics are held in 192 countries, where thousands and thousands of Special Olympians will compete.
With the creation of the Special Olympics, Anne has altered the public perception and created a greater awareness and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities.
It was a busy Summer for Anne. In May she had married a young Chicago policeman and became Mrs. Edward Burke. Ed subsequently passed the bar exam and they started a family. For the next three years she raised her family. By then they had three children and at Ed’s urging, Anne entered DePaul University School of New Learning to finish college and become a certified teacher. For five years she taught school and raised their three children.
Next, Ed and Anne decided that she would become a much stronger and more effective for the disabled if she became a lawyer. She entered Kent Law School and went “underground” for three years to deal with the very difficult law school curriculum. Due to her dyslexia, she was an auditory learner.
By now Ed was Ald. Edward Burke, and he also became Mr. Mom to help Anne deal with law school. Three years with four children, she became a lawyer at 40 years of age. She had her choice of a number of major downtown law firms. Instead she opened a small neighborhood law office. Her practice was diverse, both civil and criminal. There were many family law cases. She worked with abused and neglected children, the most vulnerable in our society. Many were threatened or impoverished, and all sorts of families were at risk. She continued her advocacy for the disabled during the 11 years of her neighborhood practice until she came to the attention of former Gov. Thompson, who appointed her to her first judgeship. Now 30 years later, she’s the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Anne Burke is a good, decent, and humble person who has had to fight for everything she’s accomplished, sometimes against overwhelming odds, but she never quits. She doesn’t use the positions she’s held for self-aggrandizement; rather, she uses the power and resources to fight for the people who are powerless and others in need. To her this is the great privilege of her life. Everything else has followed from that.
She’s a born leader. People like and trust her and her values. But as nice as she can be, she’s as tough as nails if somebody is trying to hurt her special children. Avery Brundage, the pompous chairman of the Olympic committee, found out the hard way when he tried to prevent the Special Olympics from being held. He lost and the children won! She’s proud of her record of accomplishments, but the things she’s the proudest of are her family—her husband of 52 years, their five children, and nine grandchildren. These are the things that give her purpose. When she looks in the mirror, she sees a wife, a mother, and a grandmother; a woman who does the dishes and cooks the meals.
The next time somebody says that one person can’t make a difference, tell them about a young girl with dyslexia who grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. She’s now Chief Justice Anne McGlone Burke of the Supreme Court of Illinois—who’s an exceptional human being.
Thanks, and congratulations Madame Chief Justice!