Illinois Supreme Court Justice to retire on Leap Day

Illinois Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Thomas is retiring on February 29, 2020. Thomas announced plans to join law firm Powers Rogers following his retirement.

Justice Thomas joined the Second District of the Illinois Supreme Court after winning election in November 2000. Thomas served as the Chief Justice of the court from 2005 to 2008. He previously served as a judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Illinois from 1988 to 1994, and as a Justice of the Illinois Appellate Court from 1994 to 2000.

Thomas earned a B.A. in government from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. In 1981, he earned a J.D. from Loyola University School of Law. Prior to beginning his legal career, Thomas was a kicker for the Chicago Bears in the National Football League.

Under Illinois law, the Illinois Supreme Court is responsible for appointing an interim judge in the event of a midterm vacancy. The interim judge serves until the next primary election occurring at least 60 days after his or her appointment, at which point the judge must run in a partisan election to remain on the court. Illinois Supreme Court Justices are selected by popular vote in partisan elections and serve 10-year terms, after which they must compete in nonpartisan retention elections to remain on the court.

Because the vacancy from Thomas’ retirement is set to occur less than 60 days before the state’s next primary on March 3, his replacement was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court in a vote of the justices. The court appointed appellate Justice Michael J. Burke to serve from March 1, 2020, to December 5, 2022.

Unlike most states, supreme court justices in Illinois are elected to represent specific districts. The seven justices are divided among five districts (three allocated to Cook County and the others divided evenly among the other four districts across the state) and are voted into office by the residents of their respective regions. Three other states—Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi—use a similar system.

The Illinois Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It currently includes the following justices:
• Mary Jane Theis — Elected in 2010
• Anne M. Burke — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006; elected Chief Justice by her peers in 2019
• P. Scott Neville — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2018
• Thomas Kilbride — Elected in 2000
• Rita Garman — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001
• Lloyd Karmeier — Elected in 2004

The Illinois Supreme Court will see another retirement in 2020. Justice Lloyd Karmeier is retiring from the court on December 6, 2020. His seat will be filled via partisan election.

In 2020, there have been eight supreme court vacancies in seven of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Four vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Three are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

Click here to learn more about the Illinois Supreme Court justice vacancy.

Additional reading:
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Illinois Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Illinois