The scales of justice were perfectly balanced at the Illinois State Board of Elections this week, even through there were three St. Clair County judges on one side and Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook on the other. They split 4-4 on whether to let the judges stay on the ballot, then punted to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan for a legal opinion.
Bottom line: They remain on the ballot. For now.
Cook, a Republican running for circuit clerk, complained when the judges quit and then filed for re-election instead of running to be retained. Election required 50 percent of the vote, plus one, and retention requires 60 percent of the vote.
An election board hearing officer saw nothing wrong with their nominating petitions or anything in state law prohibiting them from quitting for 5 seconds and then starting up again, reborn as newly elected judges instead of — maybe — being retained by voters as their same old selves.
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No surprises there. These three legal eagles were not going to risk their $178,835 salaries if they weren’t certain they had found a solid loophole.
But it was truly encouraging that the election board bought in to the argument that these three were trying to sidestep the principle our state’s citizens put forward in our state’s constitution. That principle is that judges should be politicians just once, then abandon politics for the rest of their careers to ensure impartiality.
In exchange judges got the job security represented by only needing 60 percent of the vote to keep their jobs, and the people got a mechanism to remove judges who lapse mentally, show repeated bias, become infirm or otherwise fall out of favor with 40 percent plus one of us.
The judges would have us believe that their way is the better way because they get to discuss the issues and face weighty questions. Well, we all know that’s a heap of what comes out the back of our equine friends and that these three really were uncertain that 60 percent of us wanted to keep their scheming, good-old-boy, politickin’ selves on the bench.
Two of the three judges face challengers, so even if they get to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, two-thirds of this issue will be decided in the people’s court. Yet there is a need here to close the loophole and stop judges — the very people we expect to interpret the law on society’s behalf — to stop interpreting it on their own behalf.
Ball’s in Lisa’s court.