Opinion Cook County needs better way to select judges
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
by Editorial Board
A hypothetical lawyer representing Cook County voters would have reason right now to make two objections to the way judges are elected.
Objection No. 1: Not a single candidate running for one of the 11 open countywide Circuit Court judgeships faces an opponent in the Nov. 8 election. Nor does any candidate running in all but two of the county’s 14 subcircuits. It repeats a pattern that has been dismally frequent in Cook County judicial elections in past years.
Objection No. 2: A proposed constitutional amendment that would have been a small step toward a better system got nowhere in the most recent legislative session.
Those are valid objections. But so far the answers have been: objection overruled.
Defenders of the status quo proclaim the virtue of giving citizens a voice in deciding who will be judges. But how much of a voice does a citizen have when there’s just one name to choose from?
Moreover, two of the judicial candidates facing no opposition were rated “Not Recommended” by all 12 bar associations that rate Cook County judges. That’s not the kind of thing that instills confidence in citizens who must appear in court.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have made voting for judges a tiny bit easier by simplifying retention races for the Illinois Supreme Court and appellate courts. It would have created a merit panel to automatically certify the better-qualified judges for retention after their terms are up. Only the remaining judges would go before voters. For the citizenry, the process would be a little less overwhelming.
It would be inaccurate to say the proposed amendment was laughed out of committee when it came up for discussion because no one was smiling. But the reaction was far from sympathetic.
Reformers might be tempted to give up, but they should keep trying to educate fellow lawmakers about the need for reforms. The system for electing and retaining judges in Cook County is broken.
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