Judicial Evaluations - How It Works

To aid Illinois voters in their responsibility to elect and retain judges; the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) provides public information about the qualifications of judicial candidates and judges seeking retention. The lawyers who practice alongside candidates and judges are in a unique position to assess the professional qualities that are necessary for good judges. 

How Judicial Evaluations (Outside of Cook County) Work

Candidates who are seeking election to Appellate or Supreme Court judicial vacancies and judges seeking retention to their Appellate or Supreme Court positions are reviewed in a comprehensive evaluation process called Judicial Evaluations, which are conducted by the independent ISBA Judicial Evaluations Committee. The Committee emphasizes integrity and transparency in its process, which is nonpartisan and equitable to all candidates. 

The Committee's process involves many steps. It includes: a 40-point questionnaire; investigations that involve interviews with lawyers knowledgeable about the candidates; a formal interview with candidates; and thorough review and finalization of ratings by the full Committee. 

The Committee uses 12 criteria that are considered to be vitally important characteristics of good judges:

  • Litigation experience
  • Professional experience
  • Health and age of the candidate
  • Legal knowledge and ability
  • Integrity
  • Sensitivity to diversity and bias
  • Judicial temperament
  • Diligence
  • Punctuality
  • Impartiality
  • Professional conduct
  • Character

The Committee then decides how to rate the candidate or judge. Ratings for candidates seeking election to the Appellate or Supreme Court are rated Recommended, Highly Recommended, or Not Recommended. Judges seeking retention are rated Recommended or Not Recommended. No Committee member who serves on a campaign committee or is actively involved in fund raising for any candidate under review, may participate in the investigation or evaluation of any candidate for the same judicial office. Judicial Evaluation ratings express the opinion of the Illinois State Bar Association.

How Judicial Advisory Polls Work

In counties outside of Cook, ISBA conducts an advisory poll. The poll is conducted by email and mail and is sent to all ISBA members in the circuit or district from which a candidate seeks election or a judge seeks retention. Licensed attorneys who are not members of ISBA, or any attorney outside the circuit or district may request a ballot. Participants of the poll are asked to evaluate each candidate only if they have professional knowledge of the candidate(s) that enables them to make an informed evaluation. Ballots are confidential and returned inside a ballot envelope which is mailed in a Teller envelope. A certification slip stating that the participant read and understood the instructions of the poll is signed in order for the ballot to be counted. Candidates and judges are rated "recommended" or "not recommended" based on whether respondents agree that the candidate "meets acceptable requirements for the office." Those receiving 65 percent or more "yes" responses to that question are rated "recommended" and those receiving less than 65 percent are rated "not recommended." Opinions expressed in the poll are of those attorneys who chose to respond and do not reflect the opinion of the Illinois State Bar Association or the opinion of all Illinois attorneys.

Following are the questions asked on the poll. Please note that questions on Temperament and Court management differ for those seeking a judicial vacancy and those seeking retention. Clarification of those differences are noted below.

Meets Requirements of Office:

(Recommendation) Considering the qualifications of the candidate, do you believe this candidate meets acceptable requirements for the office?


Adhere to the high standards of integrity and ethical conduct required of the office?


Act and rule impartially and free of any predisposition or improper influence?

Legal Ability

Have adequate legal experience, knowledge, and ability?


for a judicial vacancy:
Exercise appropriate temperament with courtesy, consideration, firmness, fairness, patience and dignity?

for judicial retention:
Exercise the judicial temperament to serve with appropriate courtesy, consideration, firmness, fairness, patience and dignity?

Court Management

for a judicial vacancy:
Attends to all professional responsibilities including the management of cases/clients, and completes work in a prompt and skillful manner?

for judicial retention:
Diligently and promptly attend to the duties of the office and assure the steady progress of court business?


Have the physical, mental and emotional health, stamina and stability needed to perform judicial duties?

Sensitivity to Diversity and Bias

Conducts self and deals with others appropriately to reduce or eliminate conduct or words which manifest bias based on race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation or socio-economic status against parties, witnesses, counsel or others?

Vacancies vs. Retention

Judicial Vacancies:  The office of a Judge is vacant upon death, resignation, retirement, removal, or upon conclusion of his term without retention in office. Supreme and Appellate Court judges are elected by voters in their Judicial District. Circuit Court judges are elected by voters in their Judicial Circuit or county. Supreme and Appellate Court judges serve 10 year terms, while Circuit Court judges serve six year terms. At the end of their term each are required to file for retention in order to serve longer.

Judicial Retention: At the end of the term of Supreme, Appellate and Circuit judges, each may file a declaration of candidacy to succeed himself. The names of the Judges seeking Retention are submitted to eligible voters in the appropriate Supreme and Appellate Court District for retention of Supreme and Appellate Court Judges, and in the appropriate Judicial Circuit or county for retention of Circuit Judges. Judges seeking retention are listed on the ballot separately and without party designation. Voters are asked the sole question of whether each Judge should be retained in office for another term. An affirmative vote of three-fifths (60%) of the electors voting on the question elects the Judge to the office for another term.