Democrats won at least one of the two partisan elections for the Illinois Supreme Court. Judge Elizabeth Rochford (D) defeated former Sheriff Mark Curran (R), while Judge Mary K. O’Brien (D) held a narrow lead over Justice Michael Burke (R) as of the time of publication with 92 percent of precincts reporting. Justice Mary Jane Theis (D) also won her retention election.
As a result, Democrats will either maintain their 4–3 majority or grow to a 5–2 majority on the court — a majority they have held since the 1970s. In 2020, Illinois Republicans created an opportunity to vie for a majority on the state high court in 2022 by successfully waging the most expensive anti-retention election ever to unseat Justice Thomas Kilbride (D). A lower court judge, Robert Carter (D), was appointed by the state supreme court on an interim basis, with Kilbride’s seat opening for a competitive election in 2022. Following Kilbride’s defeat, the legislature redrew the state’s judicial districts, and both of this year’s elections were viewed as competitive.
Recent Illinois Supreme Court decisions that have broken down along partisan lines include rulings about pension reform, redistricting, and workers’ compensation.
In their campaigns, Democratic candidates and groups on the political left emphasized the role that the Illinois Supreme Court may play in determining abortion rights in the state in the wake of Dobbs. In September, the Illinois Republican Party accused O’Brien of misrepresenting Burke’s views in an ad that said he “agreed with the decision to overturn Roe.” In 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution protected abortion rights to the same extent as the federal constitution, an approach that puts those protections in question after Dobbs. Republican candidates and conservative groups, for their part, tried to tie Democratic candidates to Mike Madigan, the former Illinois speaker of the house, who was indicted for bribery and racketeering this year.
These elections were likely the most expensive judicial elections in the country this year, with Republican candidates receiving millions in independent spending by Illinois billionaires Ken Griffin and Richard Uihlein and Democratic candidates receiving millions in independent support from labor unions and progressive groups as well as large donations from Gov. J.B. Pritzker.