Abortion vs. Mike Madigan? Democrats and Republicans play hole cards in high-stakes battle for control of state Supreme Court – Chicago Sun-Times


It may seem hard to believe from here in Democrat-dominated Cook County in Democrat-controlled Illinois, but there’s a real possibility the Nov. 8 election could result in a state Supreme Court with a 4-3 Republican majority.

The rare opportunity has Republicans energized and Democrats nervous as the campaigns for two open suburban-based Supreme Court seats head to the finish.

The Illinois Supreme Court has had a Democratic majority since the 1970 Illinois Constitution, and nobody can say for certain what would be the effect of flipping the court’s control in the Republicans’ favor.

But with millions of dollars being spent to influence the results, it’s clear powerful forces believe there could be alternative outcomes on everything from abortion rights and lawsuit damage awards to future legislative redistricting and election legal challenges.

Republican Mark Curran, a former Lake County Sheriff, is running against Democrat Elizabeth “Liz” Rochford, a Lake County judge, in the 2nd Supreme Court District. The district is comprised of Lake, Kane, McHenry, Kendall and DeKalb counties.

Appointed Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Burke is the Republican candidate in the 3rd Supreme Court district against Appellate Justice Mary Kay O’Brien, a former Democratic state legislator.That district includes DuPage and Will counties, plus Bureau, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee and LaSalle counties.

Although both districts were drawn as “toss-up” districts that either party could win, the 2nd District is believed to lean slightly Democratic based on results from recent elections while the 3rd District leans more Republican.

Republicans need to win both to take the court majority, while Democrats need just one to preserve their 4-3 advantage.

This situation was created when voters in the 3rd District voted in 2020 against retaining Democratic Justice Thomas Kilbride after a campaign that sought to link him to since indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Democrats responded by redrawing the court’s boundaries to give themselves a better shot at retaining control, a political maneuver legally justified by a huge population imbalance that had taken place since the lines were last drawn in 1964.

Television commercial opposing the retention of then Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride, right, in 2020.

Television commercial opposing the retention of then Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride, right, in 2020.

I’m told it wasn’t really possible as a legal or practical matter for Democrats to draw the map in a way that would have assured them of winning one of the seats, as would have been their normal tendency.

Instead, both seats are in play.

Republicans are rerunning the anti-Madigan playbook that worked against Kilbride, portraying Rochford and O’Brien as “cronies” of the unpopular former speaker. Just before he forsook Illinois for Florida, billionaire Ken Griffin made a parting gift of $6.25 million to Citizens for Judicial Fairness, which is paying for the attack ads.

There’s been no evidence offered showing any real link between Rochford and Madigan. Rochford said she doesn’t know him.

Former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and Lake County Judge Elizabeth Rochford.

Former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and Lake County Judge Elizabeth Rochford.

That’s not to say she’s not a product of the Democratic political establishment. Her father, James Rochford, was Chicago police superintendent under the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. She later served 22 years on the Illinois Court of Claims, a political appointment that usually goes to insiders.

And in a real head scratcher, she donated $1,500 to Ald. Edward M. Burke just after a high profile FBI raid on his City Hall office although before his indictment.

O’Brien’s connection to Madigan is the same as any former Democratic House member. She served as state representative from 1997 to 2003 after being elected from her home in Kankakee County.

That meant she took campaign contributions from political organizations under Madigan’s control (that was one of his methods of keeping control), and she voted for him for speaker (the alternative was to vote for a Republican.)

It doesn’t exactly make her a crony, but that’s the price Democrats are paying for not having pushed Madigan aside sooner.

Appellate Court Justice Mary Kay O’Brien, left; Illinois Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Burke, right.

Appellate Court Justice Mary Kay O’Brien, left; Illinois Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Burke, right.

The strongest issue Democrats have working in their favor is abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which put the matter in the hands of state officials.

Although Illinois law offers strong abortion protections, there’s already a pending legal challenge to the state’s latest abortion legislation that the new court could decide.

Republicans Burke and Curran have the backing of anti-abortion groups but deny they have any pre-determined position on how they would rule on abortion matters. Abortion rights supporters have seen that movie previously at the federal level and didn’t like the ending.

Curran has gone further than Burke by publicly stating staunch pro-life views.

Abortion rights groups are firmly behind Democrats Rochford and O’Brien.

Even among many Republicans, Burke is regarded as a more serious candidate than Curran, who drew a “not recommended” rating from the Illinois State Bar Association.Curran is a former Democrat who just two years ago lost badly while embracing Trump in a bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Curran has never been a judge. Rochford was “highly recommended” by the bar group.

Burke has a better rating from the state bar than O’Brien. Both are veterans of the Illinois Appellate Court. Burke has identified his judicial philosophy as being an “originalist” or “textualist,” as did the late conservative U.S. Justice Antonin Scalia, which also sets off Democrats’ alarm bells.

With Democratic voters turning out in lower numbers in non-presidential election years, their concerns over the Supreme Court races are real, the future uncertain.

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October 24, 2022 at 07:07PM

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