Illinois Supreme Court elections

The 2022 elections in Illinois could lead to a major shift in the ideological balance of the state’s highest court, the Illinois Supreme Court. Two seats on the 7-member court are up for election this November. The partisan contests will determine whether the court retains its Democratic majority or flips to Republican control. With high-profile issues like redistricting, criminal justice reform, and abortion rights potentially on the docket, the stakes are high for the court’s future direction.

Overview of the Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has broad jurisdiction over appeals from lower courts. It has general administrative and supervisory authority over all courts in Illinois. The Supreme Court consists of seven justices who serve ten-year terms.

Makeup and Jurisdiction

The seven justices are elected from five judicial districts to ensure geographic diversity. Three justices are elected from the 1st District (Cook County) and one each from the four other districts. The Illinois Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain matters like challenges to legislative redistricting. It also hears appeals on cases involving the death penalty and public pensions.

Selection Process and Terms

Justices are selected through partisan elections and must run in uncontested retention elections thereafter to remain on the bench. They serve ten-year terms. Vacancies are filled through Supreme Court appointment until the next election more than 60 days out. The court selects a Chief Justice from among its members to serve a three-year term.

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Recent History and Current Makeup

Democrats have held a 4-3 majority on the Illinois Supreme Court for decades. The current court has four Democrats and three Republicans. But two Democratic-held seats are up in 2022, giving Republicans an opportunity to flip the advantage.

2022 Supreme Court Elections

Two of the seven Illinois Supreme Court seats are on the ballot in November 2022. One is currently held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. The outcomes will directly impact the ideological makeup of the court for years to come.

3rd District Race

The 3rd District, covering northern and central Illinois outside of Cook County, is holding a partisan election for Supreme Court justice.

Overview and Candidates

The open seat is currently held by retiring Justice Thomas Kilbride, a Democrat. He narrowly lost a 2020 retention election, but state law allowed him to stay on the bench until a replacement is elected. The Democratic nominee is Judge Mary Kay O’Brien of the 3rd District Appellate Court. The Republican nominee is former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran.

Campaign Issues and Funding

Curran is running as a conservative and highlighting his law enforcement background. O’Brien is running as a moderate Democrat. Spending will likely surpass $10 million, making it one of Illinois’ most expensive judicial races ever. Outside groups are pouring money in, viewing the race as crucial to the court’s ideological balance.

2nd District Race

The 2nd District, primarily covering northern Illinois around Chicago and the surrounding collar counties, also has a Supreme Court election in 2022.

Overview and Candidates

Democratic Justice Michael Burke is running for reelection to a second 10-year term. His Republican challenger is appellate Judge Daniel Shanes. Burke was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2020 after Justice Robert Thomas retired. Burke then won the 2020 special election to remain on the court by a healthy margin.

Campaign Issues and Funding

Justice Burke is running on his experience and Democratic values. Shanes argues the court needs ideological balance. Spending will likely top $5 million. Democrats see defending Burke’s seat as critical to maintaining their 4-3 majority, while Republicans see an opportunity to flip the court.

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Significance of the 2022 Elections

The stakes are high in the 2022 Illinois Supreme Court elections. The ideological makeup of the court hangs in the balance, with major implications for rulings on key issues.

Ideological Balance at Stake

If Republicans win both open seats, they will hold a 4-3 majority on the Illinois Supreme Court for the first time in decades. This would significantly shift the court’s ideological balance to the right on issues like abortion, guns, and redistricting. If Democrats hold onto one of the seats, they will retain a 4-3 liberal majority.

Implications for Future Rulings

A Republican majority could overturn prior rulings like a 2018 decision establishing abortion as a fundamental right in Illinois. It could also uphold laws imposing greater restrictions on abortion. The court’s ideological tilt will shape decisions on issues from redistricting maps to criminal justice reforms for years to come. Voters should consider the long-term impact on the court’s jurisprudence.

Voter Information

All registered voters in Illinois can participate in the Supreme Court elections, as long as they reside in the district holding an election. Here are some key details about voting in the 2022 Supreme Court races:

Who is Eligible

You must be:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • A resident of Illinois and your judicial district
  • At least 18 years old by Election Day
  • Not convicted of a felony or otherwise had your voting rights revoked

Registration and Voting Process

  • You must register to vote by October 11, 2022 for the November 8 general election.
  • Illinois has same-day voter registration at polling places.
  • You can vote by mail with an absentee ballot if requested by November 3.
  • Find your polling place and more voter information at the Illinois Board of Elections website.

Analysis and Prediction

The Illinois Supreme Court elections are expected to be highly competitive and could come down to razor-thin margins. Here are some predictions based on current analysis:

Likely Outcomes

  • The 3rd District race leans slightly towards a Republican pickup given the district’s swing nature and Curran’s law enforcement background. But it will be very close.
  • Burke is favored to win reelection in the 2nd District based on his incumbency advantage, but Shanes could make it competitive.
  • Democrats are likely but not assured of holding their 4-3 majority on the court. Republicans have a clear path to flipping the advantage.
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Potential Shifts in Court Balance

  • If Republicans win the 3rd District but Burke holds his seat, the court will flip to a 4-3 GOP majority.
  • If Democrats hold the 3rd District but Burke loses, the court will remain 4-3 Democratic.
  • If Democrats sweep and hold both seats, they will retain a solid 4-3 majority, likely for years to come given the 10-year terms.


The 2022 Illinois Supreme Court elections have drawn national interest and spending levels, underscoring the significance of the outcomes. The partisan races will determine if Democrats maintain their decades-long majority on the state’s highest court or if Republicans can gain a majority for the first time since the 1960s. With abortion rights, redistricting, and other high-profile issues potentially on the docket, the court’s ideological makeup hangs in the balance. Turnout and voter education will be key factors in determining the results. Voters should weigh the lasting impact their choice will have on the court’s jurisprudence and the lives of Illinois residents.


How many seats are up for election on the Illinois Supreme Court in 2022?

Two seats on the seven-member Illinois Supreme Court are up for election in November 2022. One is currently held by a Democrat (2nd District) and one by a Republican (3rd District).

How are Illinois Supreme Court justices selected?

Justices are elected in partisan elections to represent specific geographic districts. They serve 10-year terms between elections.

What is at stake in the 2022 Illinois Supreme Court elections?

The ideological balance of the court hangs in the balance. If Republicans win both seats, they will hold a 4-3 conservative majority for the first time in decades.

Who is running for the open 3rd District seat?

The Democratic nominee is Judge Mary Kay O’Brien. The Republican nominee is former Sheriff Mark Curran. The seat is currently held by retiring Justice Thomas Kilbride.

What should voters consider when choosing Illinois Supreme Court justices?

Voters should consider the judicial philosophy and potential impact on the court’s rulings on major issues like abortion rights, redistricting, criminal justice reforms, and civil rights. Justices serve 10-year terms, so their influence is long-lasting.

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