Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Will she recuse herself? Anne Burke the focus of political observer attention

The Illinois Supreme Court, a legal body we’d  like to think of as august and impartial, is inherently a political animal. Now, they’re being put in a position to make a blatantly political ruling.
BURKE: What does she hear at home?

And, they’re being asked to issue it on the fly. A rush-job ruling that will impact our city for years, if not decades, to come.

THAT IS THE case with regards to the mayoral aspirations of Rahm Emanuel, who asked the state’s high court to hear his mayoral campaign's appeal that says an Illinois appellate court panel was wrong to remove him from the list of candidates running in the Feb. 22 municipal elections. The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a stay that restored him to the ballot -- at least until the high court decides what it wants to do.

The Chicago Tribune reported how two of the three judges on that panel got their original appointments due to the work of Alderman Edward Burke – who has made it clear in this election that he is a Gery Chico backer.

The implication being that those two judges repaid a political favor by issuing a ruling that supported Burke’s electoral desires. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they would have ruled the same regardless of Burke ties, but I wonder if the fact they waited five full days to issue their ruling (they heard arguments last week) was meant to reduce the amount of time that Emanuel could try to appeal.

There’s going to be an even bigger connection for Burke when the appeal goes to the state Supreme Court, where Burke’s wife, Anne, is one of the high court’s justices. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that she in the past has sat out cases involving Chicago election law, and already is hearing pleas from various legal groups that she should recuse herself – literally sit out this particular case, on the grounds that she is too biased to issue a fair ruling.

HALL: The reality of our system is ...
NOW I’M GOING to give judges some credit when it comes to court cases involving electoral politics. I do believe all except the most blatantly incompetent are capable of viewing the law above partisan political concerns. It is simple-minded to look at the letter (“D” or “R”) that follows a judge’s name and make knee-jerk predictions about how he/she will rule on Rahm Emanuel.

Except for when it happens, such as the once-a-decade ruling when maps creating political boundaries for legislative and judicial districts are reviewed by the high court. Those always seem to come down along partisan lines. 

Which is why I think it is naïve to believe the backers of Shelvin Louise Marie Hall – one of the two judges who on Monday gave Rahm Emanuel the Election Day boot – who say they couldn’t even remember if Burke, the alderman, did anything on her behalf to get her elected as a judge.

HOFFMAN: ... judges have political ties
Then again, one has to wonder what Burke has been hearing at home from her husband about this election cycle, and how much of that rhetoric comprises her thought process these days.

JUDGES ARE JUST as much creatures of the political system we have in this state as the people who are now demanding recusal. We all want a certain outcome and want the court conditions best likely to create it.

Insofar as those people who are now demanding that Burke step aside and let her six other colleagues on the state Supreme Court decide this case, I’m not sure it makes much of a difference. 

Because Rahm Emanuel is still going to have to convince four Supreme Court justices (out of seven) that the appellate court goofed on Monday. Eliminating Burke means four out of six. That may turn out to be very difficult.

The reality of the Illinois Supreme Court is that it is broken up regionally – and Chicago is dominant enough over the other regions of Illinois that we get the 4-3 Democrat/Republican partisan split.

THREE OF THE judges are from Cook County, actually all from the city proper. The other four are either from suburban areas or the other parts of the state that are probably sitting back and watching with bemusement the antics taking place in Chicago this week.

For all I know, they may well follow the whims of their own home regions that wouldn’t mind mucking things up in this electoral process. Which means I suspect the three judges from suburban DuPage, along with Danville and Nashville in Southern Illinois, aren’t going to be terribly sympathetic to the Election Day desires of the former White House chief of staff.

Now there is one Democrat on the Supreme Court from outside of Chicago. That would be Thomas Kilbride, the man who endured a serious challenge by GOP partisans in the last election cycle to dump him to shift the state Supreme Court to the Republicans.

He managed to keep his seat (for a 10-year term) in large part due to the work of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who also has attorneys allied with him filing Emanuel’s appeal to the state Supreme Court. Combine them with the other two Chicago justices (Charles Freeman and Mary Jane Theis), and we get the potential for a “nice” 3-3 split.

THAT IS IF Anne Burke decides to recuse herself.

Personally, I’d just as soon have her sit in and take part in the high court’s decision. At least then she’d be on the record.

If we’re going to start concocting conspiracy theories about how Eddie Burke used the courts to kick his political opposition off the ballot, it would be better if we had something resembling a paper trail – rather than just our political paranoia – as evidence. Then, we can complain/rant/rage all we want for years to come.


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