In judicial retention elections, judges get to keep their robes if 60% or more of the voters say so — and that’s proved a remarkably easy threshold to hit, with few judges ever getting booted.
Which makes Tuesday’s election all the more remarkable, with Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride apparently failing to hit that mark, meaning he could soon be gone from a post he’s held for 20 years.
With more than 96% of precincts reporting, Kilbride fielded just over 55% favorable votes, according to unofficial tallies that may not include all mail-in ballots.
No justice facing retention has ever lost. If Kilbride has indeed failed to keep his seat, the court will choose a “placeholder” justice until an election in 2022.
“Though votes continue to be counted, I am disappointed in the apparent outcome,” Kilbride said in a statement late Tuesday.
But another veteran jurist, Cook County Judge Michael Toomin, appears to be holding on to his job in another closely watched retention race.
With more than 95% of precincts reporting, Toomin had 62% “yes” votes, according to unofficial totals.
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In a highly unusual move, the Cook County Democratic Party decided Toomin, 82, should be dumped rather than retained — a decision many saw as retaliation for politically sensitive judicial decisions he made that embarrassed Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
Foxx is a close ally of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who heads the county’s Democratic Party.
Democratic officials insisted Toomin — a judge for decades — wasn’t reform-minded enough and lacked the temperament to run the juvenile division.
A spokeswoman for Toomin and the committee that worked at retaining judges said Tuesday night: “Judges are called upon everyday to make difficult decisions. It’s dangerous when politicians choose to distort their records to influence an election. As we’ve said from the start of this campaign, the voters will decide this election. Today, the voters spoke and they resoundingly chose to maintain an independent judiciary free from political influence.”
Kilbride, 67, was the subject of relentless advertising encouraging voters to dethrone him.
Chicago Magazine described it as “The Weirdest Race in Illinois” with the anti-Kilbride effort funded by Republicans who “don’t even have a candidate on the ballot.”
But with a 4-3 Democratic majority, conservatives figured if they could pick off a Democrat such as Kilbride, the court’s balance of power could shift down the road.
Television commercials slamming Kilbride, and linking him to embattled Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, flooded the Chicago market — even though voters in only a sliver of the Chicago area, Will County, can vote in the race.
Kilbride lives in the Quad Cities. Only voters in his district — 21 counties from Indiana to the Mississippi — could vote on his retention.
The conservative media blitz — funded in part by Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin — called Kilbride “Madigan’s favorite judge,” and, indeed, the Illinois Democratic Party that Madigan runs helped fund Kilbride’s campaign.
This race is priciest ever for a Supreme Court election, with more than $11.5 million spent in total, according to Capitol News Illinois.
Also on Tuesday’s ballot: Democrat Judy Cates and Republican David Overstreet running for the Supreme Court seat being vacated by retiring Republican Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who represents another Downstate district. With more than 82% of precincts reporting, Overstreet had almost 63% of the vote, according to preliminary results.
Meanwhile, Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr., will stay in the seat he was appointed to in 2018. He ran unopposed.