Why does the Illinois
Supreme Court Matter?
Democracy Requires Equal Justice Under Law
Equal justice under law must be the basis for every judicial ruling.
America’s promise—and our Constitution’s guarantee—is clear: equal protection under law, regardless of name, status, position, or other characteristics. Each case must be decided on—and only on—its particular facts and the law that applies to it. The Constitution must defend all of us, equally, and cannot pick and choose who is protected.
These attributes have made America the envy of the world. Generations of immigrants left their countries to come to America for the promise of being judged based upon who they are (character, intelligence, reliability, etc.), not what they are (poor, uneducated, etc.)—or as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently put it, “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
These Constitutional guarantees that have blessed this Nation for 232 years must be protected by the judiciary to provide the same opportunities for future generations.
The Rule of Law is Essential to Justice
For there to be justice, we must have the Rule of Law.
The Preamble to the United States Constitution explains that the purpose of our government is to “establish Justice [and] insure domestic Tranquility” in order to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The Founders of our Republic knew that there cannot be domestic tranquility and liberty without justice.
Every society throughout history has had rules, but not every society enjoys the Rule of Law—or, as John Adams famously explained, “a government of laws and not men.” A civilized society resolves its disputes in courtrooms, not street corners and alleyways.
Separation of Powers,
Judicial Independence, and Judicial Restraint
Part of the genius of our Constitutional government is the clearly delineated separation of powers between the executive branch, legislature, and judiciary.
Vital to judicial independence is that judges be self-disciplined and show restraint. Public policy is debated and determined in the legislative and executive branches of government—in Illinois, the General Assembly and the Governor—not the Courts.
Judges are not kings, and regardless of how pressing a particular problem or need might be, it would be an improper use of judicial power to “fix” the problem by judicial fiat. Judges must have the wisdom and the will to follow policy set by the legislature unless that policy conflicts with the Constitution.
The Constitution empowers the courts to police the other branches of government when their actions violate the Constitution’s guarantee of rights for our citizens. The Constitution’s limits on governmental power protect liberty, and one of the judiciary’s prime functions is to protect the Constitution.
The seven judges of the Illinois Supreme Court shape how justice is administered in Illinois. As the head of the third, co-equal branch of government, the Illinois Supreme Court requires judges with an established track record of proven experience.
The Illinois Supreme Court impacts every citizen of Illinois in two primary ways. As the highest court in Illinois, its decisions interpreting Illinois law become legal precedent that must be followed by every judge and every court in Illinois.
In addition, the Constitution provides that the Illinois Supreme Court shall exercise supervisory authority over the entire Judicial Branch. As such, the Supreme Court makes rules (that have the force of law) impacting every aspect of the judiciary, from rules of evidence, to procedural rules governing how parties must be notified or served with lawsuits, to timelines for cases to be appealed, to rules governing judicial and attorney conduct, to developing forms and pleadings that must be used in every type of case. The Supreme Court is responsible for establishing standards throughout the judicial branch, including agencies ranging from probation departments, to juvenile detention facilities, to court interpreters, to circuit court clerks.
For example, the Illinois Supreme Court used its authority to stay (or pause) eviction and mortgage-foreclosure cases during the pandemic. Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court created an entirely new structure for monitoring criminal defendants on bond awaiting trial. In these ways the Supreme Court determines the priorities and programs which all courts in Illinois must follow.