Joy Virginia Cunningham

Candidate for IL Supreme Court - 1st District

Candidate Q&A

Why do you want to be an Illinois Supreme Court Justice?

I was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to succeed Justice Anne Burke just over a year ago, and I believe I have a duty and a responsibility to the people of Illinois to continue the job that I was appointed to do. The Illinois Supreme Court selected me out of all 24 sitting first district Illinois Appellate Court Justices to join the Illinois Supreme Court, because they considered me the most qualified justice for the position. I have now been a member of the Illinois Supreme Court for just over a year and believe that I am representing the people of Cook County and the state of Illinois in the manner expected by the Court and the people of Illinois. I have received high marks from my colleagues and the reviewing Bar Associations at the end of my first year. I would like to continue serving the people in this position in order to assure justice, equality, and equity, as established by the Illinois and United States Constitution, are granted fairly to all citizens of Illinois.

Why do you believe you are the most qualified candidate?

In addition to my answer to number one above, referencing that I have earned high marks from my colleagues of the Illinois Supreme Court and all evaluating bar associations, I have served at all three levels of the judiciary of Illinois, thus granting me extensive judicial experience. This in turn provides me with an invaluable perspective on the unique duties of a Supreme Court Justice. I have also volunteered for professional and civic organizations including Chicago Bar Association’s Lawyer in the Classroom program; Early Childhood Education and Youth Mentoring; Chicago Association for the Education of Young Children; Center for Conflict Resolution; Chicago Legal Clinic; Center for Elder Law; the Loyola University Health System; James R. Jordan Foundation; Metropolitan School. I believe my experience and comprehensive service to the court system makes me the most qualified candidate to continue my service to the people of Illinois as a member of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Do you think electing justices to the Illinois Supreme Court is the best way to select justices?

Any preference, for election rather than selection is philosophical in nature, because the Illinois Constitution requires that judges be elected. Thus, any personal beliefs are simply an academic exercise because election rather than selection is the requirement specified by the Illinois Constitution. Accordingly, I, like every other candidate, must work within the system that exists regardless of personal preferences. I note however that federal judges are selected rather than elected and are all well qualified. Those who argue against election, believe that the public is ignorant of the qualifications of judicial candidates. Those that argue against selection argue that it does not allow for enough diversity, objective public input nor broad based opportunity for all prospective candidates, thereby becoming an exclusive process.

Are you concerned about the public’s perception of judicial independence when Illinois Supreme Court candidate (committees) must fundraise to run for that seat and to run campaign commercials?

No, Judicial candidates like any other elected official, should fund their campaigns in a manner that is commensurate with their financial ability. The constitution allows this. And, as long as Illinois has an elective system for the judiciary, it would be unfair to carve out specific restrictions for candidates who are seeking judicial office while candidates for other elective offices are not constrained by such restrictions. Judicial candidates are already significantly constrained from fundraising and must conduct themselves with the cannons of Judicial ethics.

Some judicial candidates have lifted contribution caps in their races by giving themselves $100,000 or more. That opens the door for other deep-pocket donors to contribute and influence races. Should judicial candidates have tighter restrictions on campaign financing to keep more modest fundraising caps in place?

No, As it stands, judicial candidates are not allowed to engage in fundraising. For some candidates, self-funding may be their only means of financing their campaign

Would you always remove yourself from a case if it involved one of your campaign donors?

Yes, I would always recuse myself if I became aware of the donor. However, under current Illinois law, I am precluded from knowing who donated to my campaign. Accordingly, I have never sought to identify donors to my campaign.

How important is it to your candidacy to be slated by your political party?

I find slating by my party important because it provides many benefits such as allowing me to understand what concerns the voters have ahead of the primary election. I also find it important to be slated by my party because slating brings with it other advantages such as collaboration with community leaders, assistance of collection of petition signatures; and even greater opportunities to engage with voters. It also provides for a more comprehensive dissemination of information related to my candidacy and the election process.

Do you support the campaign finance rule for judicial candidates that bans donations from groups that don’t disclose the donors who fund them (dark money groups)?

Yes, Yes. I believe the public has a right to know which groups are providing financial support for judicial candidates.

Do you think more should be done to protect the safety of judges?

Yes, Yes. There is a growing number of attacks on judges across the country. Judges occupy a unique place in our democracy, and the nature of judicial work is such that one party is always going to be on the losing end. That fact can lead to misunderstanding, anger and violence. Judges are exposed to this type of threat every day by the very nature of their responsibilities.

Tell us about your judicial temperament and what aspect of judicial temperament you think is the most important for an Illinois Supreme Court justice?

I have been described by others in the context of a judicial evaluation as, “even tempered and respectful.” I believe judges should be civil, even tempered, respectful of the people appearing before them and skilled in listening. Judicial temperament sets the tone for all business that takes place in a court room; therefore, it is incumbent upon Supreme Court Justices to always set the tone of civility in the court room.

What is your biggest goal if you are elected to the Illinois Supreme Court?

As mentioned, I was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court over a year ago and have been serving as a member of the court for the past year. One of my goals was to become an ambassador for the court to various segments of the community at large. The Supreme Court is often a mystery to the people we serve and outreach is an important element of educating the public about the work of the court. At the end of my first year, my colleagues have given me high marks for my work. My goal is to continue that trajectory including outreach and educating the public through interaction with students and community groups about the work of the court. I am proud to have participated in a significant activity this year when the Supreme Court convened away from Springfield for the first time in several years.