March 2020 • Volume 108 • Number 3 • Page 16
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And Then There Were Three
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas’s retirement leaves one less Supreme Court seat in play for 2020.
At the start of 2020, more than half of the Illinois Supreme Court’s seven seats were in some state of play leading up to primary and general elections this year, with two contested races in the First and Fifth districts and two justices up for retention in the Second and Third districts.
But Justice Thomas’s retirement this spring removed his Second District seat from consideration. Because Justice Thomas retired too close to the 2020 elections, deadlines for candidates interested in replacing him lapsed and the Illinois Supreme Court justices were required to replace him. They selected Second District Appellate Court Justice Michael J. Burke from DuPage County. (There is no relationship between Justice Michael Burke and Chief Justice Anne Burke. Also, the former is a registered Republican and the chief justice is a Democrat.) Justice Burke, who officially replaced Justice Thomas on March 1, will have to win his seat in November 2022 if he is to remain on the Court.
Justice Kilbride has until May to declare whether he will seek retention for his Fourth District seat. The Fifth District seat will be vacated at the end of this year when Justice Karmeier plans to retire. Because Justice Karmeier announced his retirement in late 2019, he created an opportunity for a contested election. Leading up to the March Primary Election, two Republican candidates and one Democratic candidate were competing to replace him. Justice Neville, who was appointed to replace former Justice Freeman when he retired in 2018, must run for reelection this year to keep his job. He faces six challengers for one of the Illinois Supreme Court’s First District seats representing Cook County.
Justice Michael J. Burke
Justice Michael Burke, who was assigned to the Illinois Appellate Court in 2008, has been an assistant state’s attorney, associate circuit court judge, and circuit court judge, where he heard felony cases and also presided over the misdemeanor and traffic division. He earned his law degree from The John Marshall Law School, where he graduated with high distinction in 1984. But Justice Burke, 61, is well acquainted with the Illinois Supreme Court and its traditions. For example, Justice Burke has occasionally participated in swearing-in duties for new lawyers, events typically presided over by an Illinois Supreme Court justice.
Justice Thomas, 67, joined the Illinois Supreme Court in 2000. Among his judicial accomplishments, he helped create the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism in 2005 and pushed for mandatory CLE for lawyers and judges. Of course, he also is known for his time as a Chicago Bears kicker. He played on four NFL teams from 1975 to 1986, 10 of those years with the Bears. In 1975, he kicked that season’s longest field goal of 55 yards, according to pro-football-reference.com/.
Pete Sherman is Managing Editor of the Illinois Bar Journal.