Chief Justice Anne Burke stepping down from Illinois Supreme Court

The retirement comes a year before her husband, Ald. Ed Burke (14th), is scheduled to stand trial on federal racketeering charges.

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Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke in 2014.

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Burke in 2014.

Sun-Times file photo

Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said Monday she is retiring from the state’s top court effective Nov. 30 — just weeks after a general election with two other seats on the court in play.

The retirement comes a year before her husband Ald. Ed Burke (14th) — the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history — is scheduled to stand trial on federal racketeering, bribery and extortion charges.

Anne Burke’s term will end Oct. 25, but she will remain on the bench until Nov. 30, a day before her successor is sworn in.

First District Appellate Justice Joy V. Cunningham was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Anne Burke’s retirement. Cunningham will be seated Dec. 1.

Justice Mary Jane Theis has been selected to serve as the court’s next chief justice, the Illinois Supreme Court also announced Monday. An installation ceremony will be held in November.

“I have been blessed to serve as a Supreme Court Justice for the past 16 years and have loved working with my staff, colleagues and Judicial Branch staff to serve the people of Illinois,” Anne Burke said in a statement.

“The past three years as Chief Justice have been a challenging time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am thrilled with the progress made by the Illinois Courts.”

Then-Illinois Supreme Court candidates, left to right, Mary Jane Theis, Aurelia Pucinski and Joy Cunningham in 2012.

Then-Illinois Supreme Court candidates, left to right, Mary Jane Theis, Aurelia Pucinski and Joy Cunningham meet with Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2012.

Scott Stewart/Sun-Times-file

Anne Burke has served as chief justice since 2019. She has been on the court since 2006 and was selected by the other justices to serve as the leading justice for a three-year term that began in late October 2019. Anne Burke won her first 10-year term in 2008 and another in 2018; she represents the 1st District, which covers Cook County.

While Democrats have controlled the state Supreme Court since 1969, Republicans are aiming to change that with two seats on the ballot this November. Republican victories could change the court — where Democrats hold a 4-3 majority — at a high-stakes time with abortion and gun control at the forefront.

Former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, a Republican, is running against Democratic Lake County Judge Elizabeth “Liz” Rochford in the 2nd Supreme Court District. The race for the 3rd District pits appointed state Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Burke, a Republican, against Appellate Justice Mary Kay O’Brien.

Clockwise from top left: Republican Mark Curran, Democrat Elizabeth Rochford, Democrat Mary Kay O’Brien and Republican Michael Burke. 

Clockwise from top left, the candidates for two state Supreme Court seats are: Republican Mark Curran, Democrat Elizabeth Rochford, Democrat Mary Kay O’Brien and Republican Michael Burke.

Provided

Cunningham, Anne Burke’s replacement, became a justice of the appellate court in 2006. She is a former general counsel to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the hospital’s foundation; a former associate general counsel for Loyola University of Chicago and Loyola University Health System; and a former Cook County circuit judge.

Cunningham ran for a state Supreme Court vacancy in 2012, but she lost in the Democratic Primary to Theis, who went on to win the seat in November of that year.

Cunningham will be the second Black woman to serve on the state’s high court. Appellate Justice Lisa Holder White was appointed in March to succeed Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman.

Anne Burke is also a founder of the Special Olympics, along with Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Anne Burke was 23 and a physical education teacher for the Chicago Park District when she helped organize the first event in 1968. After the first games, Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation took over operations of the Special Olympics.

Anne Burke and husband Ed Burke at the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics in 2009.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke and her husband, Ald. Ed Burke, attend the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics in 2009.

Sun-Times file photo

Anne Burke has not escaped controversy.

In 2019, a political consultant filed a complaint against her with the state Judicial Inquiry Board about a fund-raiser held in the Burkes’ Southwest Side home for then-mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle.

Trying to distance Preckwinkle from Ed Burke’s troubles, a senior adviser to the Cook County Board president had told the Sun-Times the Jan. 18 fund-raiser was “the result of a friendship between Preckwinkle and Burke’s wife, Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.”

Consultant Jeffrey Orr filed a complaint arguing those and statements by Preckwinkle “implicated Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke in potential violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

The Judicial Inquiry Board ultimately cleared Anne Burke of wrongdoing but citing confidentiality rules gave no explanation for the decision.

Ald. Ed Burke, 78, is scheduled to go on trial in November 2023. If he chooses to seek re-election to a record 15th term next year — which includes the two-year term served after a special election to fill the vacancy created by Joseph Burke’s death — he will have to win in a redrawn ward that counts 87% of its voting age population as Latino, up from 81%.

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