Judicial selection in Illinois

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Illinois
Seal of Illinois.png
Illinois Supreme Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Illinois Appellate Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Illinois Circuit Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years

Selection of state court judges in Illinois occurs through partisan elections followed by nonpartisan retention elections.[1][2]

According to the Illinois Constitution, judges' terms begin on the first Monday in December following their election or retention.

Supreme and Appellate Court

See also: Partisan elections

The seven justices of the Illinois Supreme Court and the 42 judges of the Illinois Appellate Court are selected in an identical manner. Judges are chosen by popular vote in partisan elections and serve ten-year terms, after which they must compete in uncontested, nonpartisan retention elections to continue serving.[2]

Unlike most states, supreme and appellate court justices in Illinois are elected to represent specific districts. The seven justices are divided among five districts (three allocated to Cook County and the others divided evenly among the other four districts) and are voted into office by the residents of their respective regions.[2] Only the states of Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi use a similar system.


To serve on either of these two courts, a judge must be:

  • a U.S. citizen;
  • a district resident; and
  • licensed to practice law in Illinois.[2]

Selection of the chief justice or judge

The chief justice of the supreme court is chosen by peer vote to serve a three-year term. The chief judges of the appellate courts are also selected by peer vote, but they serve for only one year.[2]


In the event of a midterm vacancy, the Illinois Supreme Court is responsible for appointing an interim judge. The interim judge serves until the next general election occurring at least 60 days after his or her appointment, at which point the judge must run in a partisan election to continue serving.[2]

Circuit Court

See also: Partisan elections

There are 513 judges on the Illinois Circuit Court, each elected in partisan elections to six-year terms. Upon the completion of these terms, judges that wish to continue serving must compete in uncontested, nonpartisan retention elections. The chief judge of each circuit court, like that of the supreme and appellate courts, is selected by peer vote; he or she serves in that capacity indefinitely.[2]

The circuit courts are also served by 391 associate judges, who are limited in that they may not preside over cases in which the defendant is charged with a felony (an offense punishable by one or more years in prison). Associate judges are appointed to four-year terms by circuit judges.[3][2]

Midterm vacancies are filled by Illinois Supreme Court appointment, just as they are on the other courts.[2]


To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • a U.S. citizen;
  • a circuit/county resident; and
  • licensed to practice law in Illinois.[2]

Limited jurisdiction courts

Because Illinois has a unified judicial system, in which the circuit court has jurisdiction over all types of cases, the state does not make use of limited jurisdiction courts.[4]


Judicial selection methods in Illinois have undergone several changes in the last 200 years. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest.

  • 2009: New limits were imposed on judicial campaign contributions. Contributions must be capped at $125,000 for candidates in the first judicial district and at $75,000 for candidates of all other districts.
  • 1992: The Illinois Legislature established the subcircuit system in Cook County to promote greater diversity on the bench.
  • 1964: A new constitutional amendment, ratified by voters in 1962, took effect. The article established a unified court system:
    • Established that all judges are to be chosen by the people in partisan elections.
    • Established that, once elected, judges must run in retention elections for subsequent terms.
    • Established that judges of the supreme court and appellate courts are elected to ten-year terms; judges of the circuit court are elected to six-year terms.
  • 1877: The appellate courts were first established.
  • 1870: A new constitution provided for the creation of an appellate court, to be composed of circuit court judges appointed by the supreme court.
  • 1848: Established that supreme court justices are to be elected by the people to nine-year terms. Circuit court judges are elected to six-year terms.
  • 1818: Established that judges are to be elected for life by the general assembly.[2]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[5]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links