Democrat Power Is Unopposed In Illinois, But A Court Race Could Change That by illinoislawmakers [CC BY 3.0 (] by illinoislawmakers [CC BY 3.0 (]

An obscure state Supreme Court race holds the key to putting a check on Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s power. Republicans just  have to win it.


Illinois Supreme Court justices represent districts and are elected on partisan lines. They come up for retention votes every ten years. But unlike other states, where beating justices in retention votes is well-nigh impossible, Illinois has a 60% threshold that justices must surpass to be retained. If fewer than 60% of the votes are in the affirmative, the justice is removed from office and their successor has to run in a partisan race.

Justice Thomas Kilbride (D) is up for retention in 2020 in the 3rd Judicial District, which President Trump carried 50-44 in 2016. Forcing a partisan race ought then to be somewhat easy with a well-organized campaign. In fact, he only received 66% support in his retention race in 2010.

There was a small expenditure against retention in 2010, but the relative closeness of the race suggests that a “No” vote on retention can be achieved.

However, defeating Kilbride is just the first step in a wonky process. If he is not retained, the court, with Kilbride voting, chooses his successor, who then has to run in a partisan race in the next general election. That race, which would be held in conjunction with the 2022 midterms,  is likely to be very expensive. Madigan and the trial bar will spend virtually anything to avoid a check on their power, but the 3rd District is friendly turf for Republicans, particularly down-ballot.


Control of the Illinois Supreme Court could allow Republicans to sue for fair maps in Illinois or put a ballot measure for an independent redistricting commission on the ballot.

A fair congressional map in Illinois might look like this. A commission would also draw fair maps for the state legislature that would send more Republicans to Springfield and end Democratic supermajorities in both legislative chambers.

Suffice it to say that a lot hinges on just one race.

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