Illinois Supreme Court selects chief justice married to indicted Chicago Alderman at center of huge federal probe into political corruption
There is jaw-dropping indifference to the appearance of corruption in Springfield, Illinois. It's hard to figure out what was on the minds of the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court when they chose Anne Burke to be chief justice for the next three years. Illinois voters elect their supreme court justices to ten-year terms on partisan ballots. Once elected, justices face a yes-or-no vote every ten years, so maybe they feel so secure in their state's deep blue status that they can flaunt the appearance of corruption with no consequences. But for anyone concerned about the legitimacy the court enjoys in the public mind, it is an odd choice of leadership. Illinois Policy explains why:
As Chicago's longest serving alderman faces prison time, his spouse will become the state's most powerful judge.
The state's high court justices on Sept. 10 elected Justice Anne Burke to chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, succeeding former Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier. (snip)
Burke's rise to chief justice comes while her husband, 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, faces a 14-count indictment on federal corruption charges. In January, federal prosecutors accused the alderman of attempting to extort the owners of a Burger King franchise in his ward by withholding a remodeling permit in order to pressure them to hire his private law firm to handle their property tax appeals.
Ald. Burke stepped down from his private law practice in August, after City Council voted unanimously to approve Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's ethics reform package, which included stricter restrictions on local leaders engaging in conflicts of interest.
Isn't Lady Justice supposed to be wearing a blindfold?
Being married to a "controversial" (let's call him that because he hasn't been convicted of anything) figure at the center of a huge federal corruption probe isn't Chief Justice Burke's sole problem that ought to weigh on the minds of her colleagues:
Justice Anne Burke saddled the Illinois Supreme Court with Chicago's political baggage in January 2018 when she and Ed Burke held a fundraiser at their home in support of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's unsuccessful mayoral bid. Ald. Ed Burke's extortion charge the following year involved the allegation that he coerced the Burger King franchise owners to contribute to Preckwinkle's campaign, pressuring the then-candidate to distance herself from the alderman and return the $116,000 raised at the event.
In January 2019, Preckwinkle told the Chicago Tribune that it was Anne Burke — not her husband — who arranged the fundraiser, despite Ed Burke's name appearing on the event invitation. But the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from endorsing or raising funds for political candidates. Political consultant Jeffrey Orr — the son of former Cook County Clerk David Orr — filed a complaint against Anne Burke alleging judicial misconduct. The Illinois Judiciary Inquiry Board in April cleared Burke of any wrongdoing without explanation.
A prima facie violation of ethics rules cleared without explanation by an official body reeks of the stink we associate with Illinois politics. And yet the other justices overlooked it.
And, as so often with Chicago and Illinois, the ties that bind are multifaceted and multigenerational:
Preckwinkle hired the Burkes' son in 2014 to a county position that earned him an annual salary of nearly $100,000.
The Illinois Supreme Court has been giving the pols the kind of decisions they want, so maybe the justices think they have immunity:
In 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the Illinois General Assembly's landmark pension reform law signed by former Gov. Pat Quinn. The court ruled public pension benefits unchangeable under the contract in effect at the start of a worker's employment — including future benefits that workers have not yet earned. The opinion cited Section 5 of Article XIII in the state constitution, which states that public pension benefits "shall not be diminished or impaired."
In November 2018, the court ruled unanimously that the state constitution's pension clause allows select government employees to inflate their post-retirement pay.
In fiscal year 2020, the state's pension contributions and related costs will consume more than 25% of all state general revenues at $10.2 billion. The extreme rise in Illinois' pension costs has led to funding cuts to core services for Illinois' most vulnerable residents at the state and local levels. Pension costs are also the main driver of Illinois homeowners' rising property tax bills, which stand among the highest in the nation.
Everyone who matters is taken care of. And the voters don't matter, because they will keep voting for the Democrats.
It's not just the Supreme Court itself that is at issue in the job of the chief justice of Illinois:
The Supreme Court's chief justice superintends all courts in the state and chairs the 29-member Illinois Judicial Conference, the duties of which are to "consider the work of the courts" and propose improvements to the courts and to "the administration of justice." The role of chief justice also holds sole authority to permit or decline non-judges access to books in the Supreme Court library.
It's not as though the state's lower courts are without controversy. Consider this from Ray Long of the Chicago Tribune:
Less than a year into office, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough faces potential federal court oversight of hiring amid a watchdog's accusations that she's "running an illegal patronage employment system."
Veteran anti-patronage attorney Michael Shakman said in a new legal filing that Yarbrough has put the politically connected into jobs that are supposed to be free from such influence, asked her employees for campaign contributions on their private cellphones and transferred certain supervisors to far-flung offices in hopes they'll quit.
Yarbrough, who was under federal court oversight in her previous job as recorder of deeds, called Shakman's latest allegations "outrageous" and "preposterous."
"Everything that I'm being accused of is just simply not true," said Yarbrough, who also is vice chair of the Illinois Democratic Party led by House Speaker Michael Madigan. "We'll have our day in court."
Mike Madigan, speaker of the state house of representatives is widely regarded as the political boss of Illinois, more consequential than the governor. His daughter Lisa was attorne general but declined to run for re-election. As of yesterday, she was hired by Kirkland & Ellis, where she will be handling their cases with the City of Chicago. [This paragraph weas corrected and subtatially expanded thanks to information from a reader.
Illinois-style politics keeps it all in the family.