As we celebrate another Law Day in Illinois, we also celebrate the 200th anniversary of our state’s admission to the United States.
The first Illinois Constitution adopted on Aug. 26, 1818, recognized the separation of powers of state government into three distinct departments, legislative, executive and judicial.
Article IV provided that the justices of the Supreme Court and all inferior courts shall be appointed by joint ballot of both branches of the General Assembly with commissions issued by the governor for a set period.
During the term of the commission, judges would serve during good behavior but could be removed for reasonable cause by a two-thirds vote of each branch of the General Assembly. Impeachment was also available.
Salaries, small as they were, were not to be diminished during the judges’ continuance in office.
Legislative action in attempting to change the structure of Illinois courts by “packing” the Illinois Supreme Court and limiting the court’s jurisdiction led to providing an independent court structure and popular election of judges in the 1848 Constitution.
All four Illinois Constitutions (1818, 1848, 1870, 1970) have maintained the separation of powers.
Article VI of the 1970 Constitution makes all Illinois courts part of a single statewide system and created a system of judicial discipline. Voters decided to continue the practice of electing Illinois Supreme, appellate and circuit judges.
For 200 years, Illinois judges have resolved literally millions of cases brought before them. Each generation of judges has faced new challenges and attacks as well as many persistent ones.
Judicial independence is defined as keeping judge’s decisions free from influences by other branches of government or from private or partisan interests. Impartiality is critical to preserving our system of justice and rule of law and maintaining public trust and confidence in the system. It is the sworn duty of every judge and when any judge fails in that trust the entire system is damaged.
The courts cannot become “partisan politics by other means.”
In these difficult financial and politically divisive times, there is increased tension among the branches of state and federal government. Politically motivated attacks on the judiciary increase in such times. Insufficient court funding and resources can interfere with operating a secure and efficient court system. Ethical rules and the judicial process prevent judges from defending themselves in many such situations.
It is then that other groups, such as IJA and other local, state and national bar associations must respond. The defenders of justice need to be defended.
Judges are not infallible, and honest public scrutiny of the judicial system and judicial decisions and behavior is important. It has been said that judicial accountability is essential to maintain judicial independence.
In that regard the Illinois Supreme Court and judges throughout the state have taken steps to make the court system well trained, more accessible, understandable, adaptable and responsive.
IJA has initiated programs to support the efforts of judges across the state to do more with less, adopt the best practices available and be active participants in their communities. The IJA is proud of the role of Illinois judges in defending the rule of law for 200 years of Illinois history and looks forward to meeting the challenges of the future.