IL Chief Justice Kept Job After $3 Million Election Campaign


Illinois Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride's race for retention in office is believed to be the second-most expensive such election in U.S. history, says Negative ads accused him of not only holding anti-business positions, but also siding with sex offenders and murderers. $3 million was poured into the race. Kilbride faced opposition from a pro-business group that urged voters to oust him over of a string of civil decisions it found objectionable. He responded, mobilizing the political and monetary might of Illinois Democrats – including unions, trial lawyers, and the party itself – to withstand the group's challenge. After raising more than $2 million, Kilbride kept his job with 66 percent of the vote, meeting the 60-percent threshold required by Illinois law to stay in office. He complained bitterly about being forced to turn into a glad-handing politician, something he considers inappropriate for a judge.

Justices in a handful of other states – including Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and Kansas – also needed to fend off campaigns to oust them in normally sleepy retention elections, which are almost always won by incumbents without much controversy or major fundraising. With the exception of three justices in Iowa, who were ousted in a backlash over a contentious ruling legalizing gay marriage, all the state high court justices subject to retention elections won – although some of them won by only a few percentage points. “From my perspective, this is spillover from the way in which contested judicial elections have been conducted over the last decade,” says Rebecca Love Kourlis of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver.

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