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How Does the Illinois Supreme Court Work?

The Illinois Supreme Court is the state’s highest court. The court has administrative authority over all other courts and hears limited appeals from the courts. These include appeals by permission, right, and interlocutory appeals for civil, criminal, and administrative cases. The Illinois Supreme Court, in conjunction with the Illinois state legislature, has the right to set rules for the entire Illinois judiciary structure. The court also enforces professional discipline in state, via the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee.

Usually, cases heard by the Illinois Supreme Court are transferred from the state’s Appellate Court. In some cases, an appeal for a Circuit Court ruling may skip the Appellate Court and be channeled directly to the Supreme Court. Also, Supreme Court members have full authority to promote trial judges to the state’s Appellate Courts, depending on the Appellate Court’s requirements at any given time. However, this appointment may be temporary.

The Illinois Supreme Court has limited jurisdiction over several cases. On the other hand, the court also has original and exclusive jurisdiction over other matters. For example, the court structure grants the Illinois Supreme Court original and exclusive jurisdiction over legislative redistricting matters. Matters that involve the Illinois Governor’s suitability are also heard exclusively by the Supreme Court. In addition to the above, the Illinois Supreme Court also exercises original and discretionary jurisdiction over the following:

  • Cases related to state revenue
  • Cases involving a writ of mandamus
  • Cases related to state bar and judiciary
  • Cases involving the qualification of a judicial member
  • Prohibition
  • Habeas Corpus
  • Matters involving certified questions
  • Cases that challenge the constitutionality of an Illinois state law

For cases where the Supreme Court has neither exclusive nor original jurisdiction, case types may vary. The Supreme Court may hear a wide range of cases, sometimes depending on matters as transferred by the state’s Appellate Courts. For example, Illinois law allows the Supreme Court to receive a direct appeal when a Circuit Court imposes a death sentence on an offender.

In addition to the above, the Illinois Supreme Court has the power to extend the range of cases it may hear. The court is allowed to pass rules that would enable it to receive a direct appeal in cases other than the death penalty.

The Illinois Supreme Court consists of seven judges. These judges represent the five Appellate Judicial Districts, which are grouped by the state’s counties. The First Appellate Judicial District is in Cook County, represented by three judges. The other four justices represent the remaining Appellate Judicial Districts and jointly vote on Supreme Court decisions. Note that concluding on a case requires a majority vote, comprising at least four judges.

Each of the judges is elected for a term spanning ten years via a partisan election. The judges have the responsibility of electing a member to serve as the state’s Chief Justice. However, the Chief Justice only maintains the position for three years. Note that the Illinois Chief Justice is responsible for enforcing the Supreme Court’s administrative authority over all other state courts.

The Illinois judicial system allows judges to run for the position after a completed tenure. However, the judge must run in a nonpartisan retention election. To retain the position, the judge’s election must also be uncontested. Also, the judge must receive at least 60 percent of all votes in the retention election. Persons who do not receive at least 60 percent of all votes may not return as a Supreme Court judge. However, such persons may be appointed as an associate of the Supreme Court.

The following are eligibility requirements that prospective Illinois Supreme Court judges must meet:

  • Currently licensed as an Illinois attorney
  • Resident of the judicial district to be represented
  • Citizen of the United States

The Illinois Compulsory Retirement of Judges Act states that a judge must retire after a term where the judge turns 75. However, the Supreme Court has ruled this requirement as unconstitutional. As such, there is currently no compulsory age requirement for qualification or retirement.

In the event of a vacancy, the Illinois Supreme Court will appoint itself a new justice. Upon the resignation, death, removal, retirement, or conclusion without retention of a judge’s term, the Supreme Court will not hold an election to fill the space. However, any judge appointed in this manner must apply and run for the position in the next general election, if the general election is more than 60 days from the date of appointment. If the general election is less than 60 days away from the date of appointment, the appointed judge shall remain in the position until the second general election after the date of appointment.

Supreme Court judges must adhere to strict rules during an active term of office. Judges are expected to dedicate themselves to the job fully. Illinois does not permit a Supreme Court judge to practice law or hold any office under the United States, the State of Illinois, a local government unit, school district, or a political party. A Supreme Court judge is also prohibited from holding any position where the judge may make a profit. However, when permitted by a Supreme Court ruling, the judge may serve in the United States armed forces or with State forces. This service does not affect the judge’s suitability to serve under the Supreme Court.

Persons that may need to visit or contact the Illinois Supreme Court may use the information listed below:

Illinois Supreme Court
200 East Capitol Avenue
Springfield, IL 62701
Phone: (217) 782–2035

The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOC) allows public access to the current Supreme Court Docket. Interested persons may use this feature to find information about cases heard by the state’s apex court. The page shows each case’s information, including the parties, case number, and each filing date. Filings may include the following:

  • Appellant’s Brief
  • Appellee’s Brief
  • Reply Brief
  • Amicus Brief in support of the Appellee or Appellant

The page also allows access to docket archives for older cases. To access a list of Supreme Court dockets, select the ‘View Docket Archives’ drop-down menu, and choose the desired term.

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