Two Democrats declared victory in their races for Illinois Supreme Court.
If the results stay steady after all votes are counted, it would mean Democrats have increased their hold on the state’s highest court after Republicans were given a rare chance to swing the balance of power.
Lake County Judge Elizabeth “Liz” Rochford declared victory Tuesday night in her race for the 2nd District seat on the Illinois Supreme Court over Mark Curran. Appellate Justice Mary Kay O’Brien, another Democrat, declared victory Wednesday over Supreme Court Judge Michael Burke in the 3rd District.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Rochford has 54% of votes compared to the Republican Curran’s 46%, according to unofficial voting results, with 100% of precincts reporting.
“Thank you to the people of the Second District for entrusting me with a seat on the bench of the highest court in the state,” Rochford said in a statement. “I am humbled that my experience, my qualifications, and my commitment to expanding access to justice in our court system resonated with so many Illinoisans.”
Curran gave a concession speech in front of his supporters late Tuesday night, in which he repeatedly pointed to his faith and said his opponent ran against him solely on the abortion issue.
“The bulk of Illinois voted on killing babies,” he said. “Now, if you asked me would I like to switch my position on that so that I could win (an) election and spend the rest of eternity in hell, I’d say no way.”
In the 3rd District, those same unofficial results show the Democrat O’Brien at 51% and Burke, a Republican, at 49% with 92% of precincts reporting. O'Brien declared victory in the race Wednesday morning.
“Justice O’Brien began her campaign over a year ago determined to keep our courts fair and impartial,” her campaign said in a Facebook post. “Last night the voters in the 3rd District placed their trust in Justice O'Brien.”
According to O’Brien, Burke has also called her to concede.
The 2nd District hears cases from DeKalb, Kane, Kendall, Lake and McHenry counties, while the 3rd District includes DuPage, Will, Kankakee, Iroquois, Grundy, LaSalle and Bureau counties.
Before Election Day, Democrats held a 4-to-3 majority in the Supreme Court, but the GOP had a chance to take a 4-to-3 majority for the first time in decades if both Burke and Curran had won. Instead, the court will now shift even further to the left, with a 5-to-2 Democrat majority.
In addition, current Justice Mary Jane Theis is running for retention following the conclusion of her decade-long term on the bench.
The already contentious races became even more pivotal to voters after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier this year.
If the control of the court does flip, any number of issues could be at stake — including reproductive health care, gun safety, criminal justice reforms and environmental rights, among others — even though justices are to be non-partisan once the elections are over.
Abortion rights activists have said Illinois is an island in protecting the right to have an abortion but believe that could change if a challenge is brought before the state’s high court.
Knowing how judges will decide any case is complicated because due to legal codes, judicial candidates can’t ethically take stances on issues as candidates do for legislative offices.
“Any time a judge is worried about a decision having a political impact, then maybe they’re in the wrong profession,” O’Brien said during a podcast interview with Capitol News Illinois.
O’Brien, a former state lawmaker, has served on the 3rd District Appellate Court for nearly two decades. She’s been “recommended” by the Illinois State Bar Association.
Burke was appointed to his Supreme Court seat in 2020 to fill a vacancy left by retiring Justice Robert Thomas. He’s been a judge since 1992 and previously served in the 2nd District Appellate Court and as a circuit court judge in DuPage County.
“I think the most important thing when it comes to picking a candidate, the person you want to sit on the highest court in the state of Illinois, it really boils down to experience,” Burke said in his own interview with Capitol News Illinois. “And I clearly have the experience over that of my opponent.”
He’s been “highly recommended” by the Illinois State Bar Association.
In the 2nd District race is Mark Curran, who has never served as a judge, but spent more than a decade as Lake County Sheriff and later ran unsuccessfully for an Illinois Senate seat against Dick Durbin.
On his campaign website, Curran is described as a “fighter for faith, family and freedom.”
“He is guided by his faith and knows the pitfalls of unaccountable systems, unholy alliances and dirty politics,” his website states.
The Illinois State Bar Association rated Curran as “not recommended.”
His opponent, Rochford, has been a judge in Lake County for the past decade and was ‘highly recommended’ by both the Illinois State Bar Association and the DuPage County Bar Association.
Per her own website, Rochford is running for the Supreme Court seat because she wants to be a “leader on the Illinois Supreme Court and a champion for women and groups often neglected by our legal system.”
Amanda Vinicky contributed to this report.