Justice Joy Cunningham Claims Victory in Illinois Supreme Court Primary Race

1st District Appellate Justice Jesse Reyes and state Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham. (Provided)1st District Appellate Justice Jesse Reyes and state Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham. (Provided)

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham of Chicago is set to keep her seat on the state’s high court, easily fending a challenge from Appellate Judge Jesse Reyes, who was striving to be the first Latino on the state’s high court.

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“I am humbled, honored and prepared to continue serving as your Supreme Court Justice,” Cunningham said in a statement. “I pledge to serve with integrity, fairness, and dedication, upholding the principles of justice and equality that are the foundation of our democracy.”

The Associated Press called the race at 8:24 p.m. Tuesday. Cunningham led with 71% of the vote, to Reyes’ 25%, according to unofficial results.

State Supreme Court justices appointed Cunningham to her seat in late 2022 to fill the vacancy left by retiring Justice Anne Burke.

Burke is married to former longtime Ald. Ed Burke, who is awaiting sentencing following his December conviction for corruption.

Those political connections became an issue in the judicial race, after WBEZ reported that the former alderperson would get to keep his attorney’s license despite a recommendation from a state commission that he lose it, because so many Illinois Supreme Court justices declared conflicts of interest that the court couldn’t make a decision on the license suspension.

The court has not named the recused judges.

Reyes called the situation a “travesty” and said that Cunningham should make public whether she recused herself and why.

Reyes was hoping to become the first Latino on the state’s high court.

“(The court) should be reflective and representative of the public that it serves. And currently the Illinois Supreme Court is not representative of the public it serves,” Reyes said. “And that’s why I’m putting myself out there because I think the Latino voice should be contributed to the, the Illinois Supreme Court.”

Reyes said during his long career in the courtroom, he has always made sure an interpreter is present because he realizes the strain it puts on a working person who doesn’t speak English and who has to make return trips to court if an interpreter isn’t available for the initial hearing.

Cunningham said while there is “room for ethnic diversity … qualifications to best serve the people of Illinois has to take precedent over everything else.”

She said she’s best for the job because she has already been doing it.

In an interview with The Daily Line, Cunningham, who has the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party, said that “to suggest that our Supreme Court is not diverse because it does not have a Latino on it, in many respects really makes no sense.”

“It’s very important to have diversity of practice experience and racial diversity and ethnic diversity is also true. But I have never touted the fact that I am half Latino and half Black,” Cunningham told WTTW News. “To me, in, in, in looking at the, at the Supreme Court, I look at credentials. What do I bring to the table in terms of my credentials? And I have served at all three levels of the court system. When the Supreme Court was looking for a successor to retiring Justice Burke, they looked at all 24 appellate court justices. And they chose me for a reason. Because they knew that I could do the job.”

Both Cunningham and Reyes said they would recuse themselves from a case if it involved a contributor to their judicial campaign.

Democrats hold a 5-2 advantage on the Illinois Supreme Court.

The result of Tuesday’s Democratic primary is likely to determine who will hold the seat for the foreseeable future: There’s no Republican candidate, and the First District court spot, covering Chicago, has long been held by Democrats. Once a Supreme Court justice wins an initial decade-long term, it’s easier to hold the position because in subsequent elections there isn’t a traditional contest. Rather, voters decide whether to retain the justice for another 10 years.

Only one candidate is running to fill a vacancy for the Fourth District, which covers a large swatch of western Illinois, from the state’s northern border down to the bottom third of the state. Justice Lisa Holder White, who became the first Black Republican on the Illinois Supreme Court when she was appointed in 2022 to fill a vacancy left by Justice Rita Garman, is for the first time running for the seat.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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