Tuesday’s announcement about the short-term future of the Illinois Supreme Court was generally good news, except for fans of political intrigue.
With Democrat Thomas Kilbride unable to reach the 60% threshold in his retention election, the remaining six justices voted unanimously to replace the senior member with Justice Robert Carter.
An Ottawa resident and Democrat, Carter has been on the bench since his 1979 appointment to the 13th Judicial Circuit Court. He’d been on the Third District Appellate Court since 2006.
Though it wasn’t clear whether Kilbride would or could be involved in choosing his replacement — convention when a justice steps down willingly — it’s important to see Carter’s selection as both disconnected from his predecessor as well as broadly acceptable to a court split 3-3 on party lines.
Most importantly, for prognostication purposes, is Carter’s age. At 74, Carter takes over Dec. 8 with a pledge to not seek a full 10-year term. That means the 2022 process of selecting his replacement is going to be the same as the one just completed to replace Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who comes from the Fifth Appellate District.
For that seat, David Overstreet trounced John Barberis in a Republican primary, capturing 76.5% of more than 100,000 votes, then comfortably beat Democrat Judy Cates, winning about 63% of more than 570,000 votes last week.
The Third District encompasses 21 counties generally representing the northern half of Central Illinois. Only Justice Vicki Wright had less seniority than Carter on the appellate bench, by three whole months. The other Third District justices include Tom Lytton (who started in December 1992), William Holdridge (December 1994), along with Mary McDade, Daniel Schmidt and Mary O’Brien, who joined between 2000 and 2003.
O’Brien, Wright and Schmidt all are young enough to reasonably seek 10-year terms, if they so choose. The youngest of the three, O’Brien served in the Illinois House as a Democrat from 1997 through 2003 and is theoretically the most experienced on the campaign trail (conversely, she could be the most reluctant to test those waters).
Those aren’t the only possible candidates, of course, and the Third District might change. While the four districts outside Cook County are supposed to be generally the same size, the most recent Census estimates have the Second District (13 Northern Illinois counties) at 3,189,000 people and the Third at 1,805,000. The Fourth and Fifth are nearly identical at roughly 1.32 million.
When Democrats redo legislative maps next year, might they finally correct that imbalance? Regardless, an incumbent-free campaign cycle benefits the court and the voting public when three other top court seats will be on the ballot in some fashion. We’ll keep an eye on all four as the process continues.
• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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November 12, 2020 at 06:18AM