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Justice Thomas’ retirement allows the GOP to dodge a bullet and regroup

Tuesday, Feb 11, 2020

* Background is here if you need it. Sun-Times story on Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas’ retirement

Thomas was up for a retention election this year, but now his replacement, Michael J. Burke will serve a term that expires in 2022, when an election for a full ten-year term will be held. Thomas nominated Burke to be his replacement, and the court approved the choice, said Chris Bonjean, a spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court.

For local Republicans, the timing of Thomas’ retirement is not ideal. Marty Keller, chairman of the DuPage County Republican Central Committee, said he does not think a Republican is guaranteed to retain the seat in a future election, especially given the timing of Thomas’ retirement.

“I kind of wish it was immediate,” Keller said. “I think a Republican would have a better chance in a presidential year, but I recognize it won’t be until 2022.”

Keller said Republicans need more representation on the Supreme Court, and added he hopes newly drawn districts will make for a fair, and more friendly Republican race in the Second District.

* I’ve seen this same political analysis elsewhere, but it’s demonstrably wrong-headed.

Hillary Clinton won the 2nd Supreme Court District 702,489 to President Trump’s 587,088, mainly due to her strong performance in DuPage and Lake counties. You’d think Keller would know that, since he chairs the DuPage County GOP.

Yes, Gov. Pritzker also won the 2nd District two years ago, but that was by a much more narrow 513,387 to 512,891 margin.

* It’s pretty safe to say that having that “R” attached to his name was not going to do Justice Thomas any favors this November as he sought the 60 percent needed to be retained - particularly if some groups (trial lawyers, labor, Madigan, etc.) spent big bucks against him.

But, if President Trump loses reelection, the Republicans will then have a Supreme Court candidate running in a 2022 Democratic presidential midterm, which, if history is any guide, may give them a strong favorable wind at their backs. If Trump wins, the midterm is still probably a better bet, considering Pritzker’s 2018 numbers.

Thomas’ decision to retire when he did may or may not have been political to him, but it was still a very smart political move for his party, regardless of what a party boss thinks. He helped his party kick the can to a potentially safer political year.

* Also, they don’t redistrict Supreme Court seats. Per the constitution, district boundaries are based on contiguous county lines and there is no constitutional requirement for decennial redistricting.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

16 Comments
  1. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 1:41 pm:

    === Thomas’ decision to retire may or may not have been political to him, but it was still a very smart political move for his party, regardless of what a party boss thinks.===

    More and more, the sheer lacking of the savvy moves necessary for the alleged GOP to live beyond Trump years here is mind-boggling, and shows the long term thinking needed is missing or is too difficult for some to grasp.

    It’s like watching bad baseball. The play, at-bat, situation is easily seen and understood in sequence or fundamental, yet the team errors again and again.

    The Raunerites seem like a really bad ball club.


  2. - Donnie Elgin - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:00 pm:

    Justice Thomas heard oral arguments for a number of important cases. Will they rush out opinions
    before Feb. 29, 2020 ?


  3. - BC - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:04 pm:

    == You’d think Keller would know that…==

    Yep. Democrats down ticket almost always do better in presidential years in Illinois. That’s why the Republicans worked so hard to (successfully) move statewide offices off of presidential years and to the midterms during the 1970 Constitutional Convention. The pro-Dem tilt in presidential years has evaporated in Trumpy areas of southern Illinois, but it’s more true than ever in the ‘burbs.


  4. - NIU Grad - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:13 pm:

    “You’d think Keller would know that, since he chairs the DuPage County GOP.”

    One would think. I’ve met many GOP chairs who use the presidential election as sort of a rallying cry, and I always figured that they were faking it to try and = gin up local party support. Either that, or Trumpism has turned the entire statewide party into a cult that honestly believes there’s a silent majority of GOP votes just waiting to spring up in 2020.


  5. - Capitol Text - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:25 pm:

    Governor Pritzker did sign a bill to redistrict subcircuits but I can’t remember if that included the 4 non-Cook Supreme/Appellate Districts


  6. - Quibbler - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:25 pm:

    The rules need to be changed to prevent this sort of gamesmanship:

    1. Supreme Court elections should be statewide;
    2. Vacancies should be filled by gubernatorial appointment, with a retention election at the next regularly scheduled election.

    Anyway, I’ve not seen any reporting on Michael Burke’s ideology. Anyone have any insights? Is he a D or R?


  7. - JP Altgeld - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:28 pm:

    I beg someone to find me a more underwhelming group of jurists in any other state supreme court. Not possible.


  8. - @misterjayem - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:37 pm:

    “You’d think Keller would know that, since he chairs the DuPage County GOP.”

    Keller let the DuPage GOP’s serious long term problem of demographic change blind him to the DuPage GOP’s serious short term problem of a shockingly unpopular president.

    – MrJM


  9. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:47 pm:

    ==* Also, they don’t redistrict Supreme Court seats. Per the constitution, district boundaries are based on contiguous county lines and there is no constitutional requirement for decennial redistricting.==

    The constitution also says that outside of Cook County, there should be “substantially equal population” in the judicial districts. Even with the apportionment aspect, you can’t have the populations too far out of whack unless without risking federal constitutional concerns.


  10. - Former DuPge Elected Official - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 2:48 pm:

    Because of Trump and his blind Republican supporters in Office at the County, State and National level DuPage will even turn more Blue in all elections at all levels


  11. - DuPage Saint - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 3:16 pm:

    @Quibbler Burke is a DuPage County Republican. Was a state attorney i think he started under Jim Ryan but was there for Birkett
    The County of DuPage until 2016 never had a Democrat voted to the bench. Very few women but that has changed over last 20 years. And never an African American and don’t think any Hispanic judges


  12. - Lowden - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 3:19 pm:

    I didn’t know judges running for retention had an R or a D next to their name. Can anyone confirm?


  13. - DTAG - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 3:34 pm:

    Michael Burke ran as an R. There is no reason that prohibits the GA from redistricting supreme court seats they just haven’t, theyncould choose to redistrict the seat if they want.


  14. - Steve Rogers - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 3:35 pm:

    lowden: Ugh. That is something you should know. Judges in Illinois are elected in partisan elections. Retention elections are not partisan–only yes/no vote.

    JPAltgeld: you mean its underwhelming if you have justices on the state supreme court who respect each other and work well together and have very few genuinely partisan splits, then yes, I’ll agree with you. For partisan bickering and erosion of respect for the robe, see SCOTUS and Wisconsin.


  15. - Geezus - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 4:04 pm:

    Love the Kapos 5-4 assessment of the partisan divide of the Illinois Supreme Court. Uhhh, there’s only seven people on that court. And there is no redistricting. Astounding the lack of knowledge about the political processes of that branch of Illinois government.


  16. - Token Conservative - Tuesday, Feb 11, 20 @ 4:11 pm:

    ===1. Supreme Court elections should be statewide;
    2. Vacancies should be filled by gubernatorial appointment, with a retention election at the next regularly scheduled election.===

    1. Heck no.
    2. Hecker no.


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