Neville, Reyes Remain in Tight Race for Illinois Supreme Court Seat

(Randy von Liski / Flickr)(Randy von Liski / Flickr)

The man who two years ago was appointed to fill the shoes of longtime Illinois Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman is in position to keep that seat for another decade. But there are reportedly thousands of votes that remain uncounted and could change that result.

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P. Scott Neville, who has served on the high court since his appointment in 2018, remains ahead of Appellate Court Justice Jesse Reyes and five others in a rare Democratic primary election for a seat on the state Supreme Court.

With 3,579 out of 3,668 of precincts reporting, Neville has thus far pulled in more than 182,000 votes for 25.4% of the vote. Reyes is running behind with 20.8%, ahead of Shelly Harris (15.6%), Cynthia Cobbs (12.6%), Margaret McBride (12.5%), Daniel Epstein (8.1%) and Nathaniel Howse (5%).

Crain’s Chicago Business reported late Tuesday that due to a “coronavirus-related election fluke,” some 170,000 ballots from early voting in Chicago had not yet been included in the city totals.


This story will be updated as election results come in Tuesday. Check back for updates.


The race had not yet been called as of 12 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The Democratic side was packed, but there are zero Republicans in this race, meaning the winner of this primary will likely earn the seat after the general election this fall.

Freeman stepped down from the bench in June 2018. He passed away earlier this month. Freeman joined the Illinois Supreme Court in 1990 and held that seat for nearly three decades. He was also the only African American justice on the court through his resignation in 2018. After his passing, Chief Justice Anne Burke called Freeman a “trailblazer” and said she considered him a mentor during their years together on the court.

A Chicago Public Schools grad, Neville earned his law degree from Washington University. Back in 1974, Neville became the first African American man to serve as a clerk for an Illinois Appellate Court Justice. He was appointed to the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1998, then the Illinois Appellate Court five years later in 2004.

As an attorney, he specialized in appellate, employment, civil rights and complex civil litigation. He was part of a team of attorneys in the early 1990s that won cases for fairer political mapping and for black and Latino workers laid off by the city of Chicago.

He said he was also part of instituting a rule to mandate judges begin civil trials by issuing an instruction about implicit bias, something that previously had been discretionary.

He earned the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party in this election, as well as Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, and several state senators and representatives.

Reyes was the first Latino to serve as a justice on Illinois’ Appellate Court and is seeking to become the first Latino to ever serve on the state’s highest court.

Diversity had been a major concern of his on the Supreme Court level and beyond. Reyes previously told WTTW News he’s concerned about the total lack of representation of the South Asian, Indian and Muslim communities on the circuit court bench.

That helped earn him a key endorsement from Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who said Reyes has “made a lasting impact on our judicial system in Illinois.”

“His experiences and vision for a representative and fair judicial system inspired him to establish the Diversity Scholarship Foundation with the goal of building a new generation of African American and Latinx legal scholars and judges,” Garcia said in a statement earlier this month. “As a member of the Illinois Supreme Court, he will have the opportunity to guide decisions that impact the everyday lives of millions of community members across the state.”

This election presented a unique opportunity for voters, who don’t typically get the chance to vote on an open Supreme Court race. Each of the high court’s seven members serve 10-year terms, and once elected, they no longer need to run against opponents. Instead, once a decade, they stand uncontested for retention, which requires receiving the support of 60% of those voting.

Beyond the Supreme Court race, voters also had a say in dozens of circuit and subcircuit court elections.

Of note in those races, Chicago-based attorney Jill Rose Quinn became the state’s first ever transgender judge after beating out two other candidates in decissive fashion in the Democratic primary for the vacant Cook County seat left by Kevin Sheehan, who retired in 2018.

"It’s not just a victory for me,” she said after declaring victory, “it’s a victory for everybody out there who’s marginalized, everybody who’s different, everybody who’s trans."

Below, background on each of the Democratic Supreme Court candidates and their platforms.


Cynthia Cobbs

Cobbs served as director of the Illinois Court systems’ administrative offices. According to her website, she’s also worked as a staff attorney, judicial law clerk and circuit court judge. She currently works as an Illinois appellate court justice.

“As judges, we are also citizens, role models  and public servants,” Cobbs says on her website. “And as such, we have a profound responsibility to serve the communities in which we live, to mentor our youth, and to conduct ourselves with dignity, honor and humility.”

She was director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, which runs the Illinois judiciary, from 2002 to 2011 before becoming a circuit court and then appellate judge.

Bar association rating: Qualified or higher by all three bar associations (Chicago Bar Association, Chicago Council of Lawyers and Illinois State Bar Association).


Daniel Epstein

Epstein, the lone candidate in this race who has no judicial experience, was rated as not qualified or not recommended by each of the three bar associations in Illinois.

He worked as an attorney at the high-powered Chicago law firm Jenner & Block and has painted himself as a reform candidate, with a platform aimed at ending cash bail and expanding restorative justice courts.

Epstein also wants independent parties to determine when Supreme Court justices face conflicts of interest, rather than the justices themselves.

Bar association rating: Not Qualified or Not Recommended by all three bar associations.


Shelly Harris

Harris, an appellate court justice, was rated as “not qualified” by the Illinois State Bar Association. He has 30 years of trial experience, according to his website, including 10 years as a circuit court judge and another 10 years as an appellate court justice.

He earned his law degree on nights while working as a Chicago Public Schools special education teacher.

Harris has highlighted two appellate court opinions he wrote: one which gave the Illinois State Police the authority to deny concealed-carry firearm permits to people based on information in prior police reports, and another that directed Cook County to provide health insurance to retired firefighters even if they get work elsewhere.

He has also self-funded his campaign some $2 million, far more than any other candidate.

Bar association rating: Not Qualified by Illinois State Bar Association; Qualified by Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers.


Nathanial Howse

Howse earned his law degree from Loyola University and was elected to the Cook County Circuit Court in 1998. He served there for 11 years before becoming a justice on the Illinois appellate court, where he still serves.

In his career, he has focused on election law and worked for the Harold Washington Party, formed by followers of Chicago’s first black mayor, to help outsiders get on the election ballot.

Howse has said he helped institute a new rule requiring judges to give a reason in writing for any case that has gone without a decision for six months, and he hopes to expand that rule to all courts statewide.

Bar association rating: Qualified or higher by all three bar associations.


Margaret McBride

McBride spent a decade working as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney until 1987, when she was appointed to become an associate judge. She was elected to the appellate court in 1998.

She previously told WTTW News she’s been part of a committee that’s taking up the issue of individuals without legal representation and therefore represent themselves. She said people with debt often don’t have access to the courts because they can’t afford an attorney.

“So we’re trying to improve that,” she said. “We’ve done things with language access. We’ve created forms that are easy for people to use.”

Bar association rating: Qualified or higher by all three bar associations.


P. Scott Neville

The incumbent in this race, Neville was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill Freeman’s seat before he passed away. He’s also earned the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party in this election.

Back in 1974, Neville became the first African American man to serve as a clerk for an Illinois appellate court justice. He was appointed to the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1998, then the Illinois appellate court five years later in 2004.

As an attorney, he specialized in appellate, employment, civil rights and complex civil litigation. He was part of a team of attorneys in the early 1990s that won cases for fairer political mapping and for black and Latino workers laid off by the city of Chicago.

He said he was also part of instituting a rule to mandate judges begin civil trials by issuing an instruction about implicit bias, something that previously had been discretionary.

Bar association rating: Qualified or higher by all three bar associations.


Jesse Reyes

Reyes has served as a judge for more than 20 years, and in 2012, he became the first Latino elected to the appellate court. If elected, he would be the first Latino to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court.

Diversity has been a major concern of his on the Supreme Court level and beyond. Reyes told WTTW News he’s concerned about the total lack of representation of the South Asian, Indian and Muslim communities on the circuit court bench.

Before becoming a judge, he represented the Chicago Board of Education in litigation and was tasked with developing and implementing the policies and procedures of school reform. He earlier worked in the Chicago corporation counsel’s office.

He said one of his top priorities is to address the high rates of individuals in jail who have mental health issues. He proposes forming a commission to study the issue – while they’re inmates, as well as once they’re released.

Bar association rating: Qualified or higher by all three bar associations


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431


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