It might surprise you to learn that the Illinois Supreme Court has been around since 1818. That’s quite a long time to be doing what they do best. If you’re curious to know more about what this particular state supreme court is all about, all you have to do is keep reading. Here, you can find 20 things about the Illinois Supreme Court that you might find interesting. Who knows, it might even prove to you that there are some facets of traditional law that can be not only surprising, but also fun.
1. It was President Monroe that signed the court into law
It’s true, President Monroe signed the Declaration making Illinois a state in 1818. With that, he also initiated the Illinois Supreme Court. Unlike some states who don’t have a supreme court enacted straight away, this was something that was initialized along with statehood. The Supreme Court has been a part of the state of Illinois ever since.
2. The court was celebrated before Illinois was actually a state
One of the more interesting things about this particular court system is that the statehood, along with the development of the Illinois Supreme Court, were all celebrated several months before they ever even came into being. As a matter of fact, Illinois didn’t become a state until December of 1818. That was the same time that the Illinois Supreme Court was first formed. It’s interesting to note that a statewide celebration took place in August of that same year to celebrate both the statehood and the Supreme Court, despite the fact that neither would legally come into existence for another four months.
3. There were only four justices to start
At first, there were only four justices who served on the Illinois Supreme Court. It’s understandable that there wouldn’t be that many justices at first, as there weren’t as many cases to be decided during this time. As a matter of fact, four justices seemed like more than enough to handle the workload that the Supreme Court had at the time. Understandably, that is a workload that has only increased as time has passed.
4. The justices were appointed by a lower court system
Another curious thing about the Supreme Court within the state of Illinois is that all of the justices were actually appointed by a lower court system within the same state, the General Assembly. Despite the fact that the Illinois Supreme Court would ultimately decide cases overturned by the General Assembly, it was this court system that had the opportunity to decide who served on the Supreme Court and who didn’t.
5. This particular court system was responsible for appointing all judges in the state
As a matter of fact, it was the General Assembly that decided who would serve as judges in all court systems within the state of Illinois, not just the Illinois Supreme Court. Many people find this to be a conflict of interest, but that is the way that the system was operated for a number of years.
6. All the justices used to be part of the circuit court as well
Since the caseloads weren’t really that heavy during the earlier days of the Supreme Court, the justices were expected to not only serve there, but also to rotate throughout the circuit court. At any one given time, one or more of the Supreme Court Justices would be away, serving on lower court systems throughout the state in order to help move cases along.
7. A fifth justice was added in 1824
Six years after the Illinois Supreme Court was formed, a fifth justice was added. It was deemed necessary because by that time, the caseload had increased fairly substantially. Nevertheless, all of the justices that served on the Illinois Supreme Court were still expected to rotate throughout the Circuit Court, regardless of how heavy the caseload might become at any point in time.
8. That was the same year all the original justices were replaced
As you might have guessed by now, it wasn’t always easy to be a justice in this state’s Supreme Court. In fact, many of them expressed concern about the way that the court system was operating. This was something that didn’t tend to sit terribly well with the General Assembly and as a result, all of the Supreme Court Justices were replaced in 1824, the same year that the fifth justice was added.
9. Justices didn’t have set terms
It’s also worth noting that justices did not have set terms at this particular point in time. Instead, they served as long as the General Assembly wanted them to serve. That meant that a justice could come onto the Supreme Court and be replaced six months later or you could have the same justice that served for 15 or even 20 years. Furthermore, they were not elected, but instead entirely appointed (and removed) by the General Assembly.
10. Instead, they served as long as the court system wanted them to serve
It’s interesting to consider the possibility that the General Assembly could add and remove Supreme Court Justices whenever the notion to do so struck them. It might seem rather confusing about why things were operated in this manner, but perhaps the most surprising thing is that no one questioned it for a number of years. However, things would eventually change.
11. The entire court system was examined in 1841
In 1841, the entire court system was examined and restructured. There were a lot of things about the court system that were changed. However, one of the things that remained the same was the fact that the General Assembly could still appoint and remove justices at will. They didn’t even have to express a specific reason for having done so. It was entirely up to them and them alone.
12. In 1848, the system was restructured yet again
Obviously, this isn’t an ideal system so in 1848, the entire court system within the state was restructured yet again. At this point, a lot of different things were looked at concerning the Illinois Supreme Court. Two of those things involve the number of justices that could serve as well as how they were appointed and removed.
13. The court system then went from nine justices to three
Before the court was restructured in 1848, they had nine justices who were serving. Once the restructuring went through, that number was drastically reduced, down to three. Obviously, this caused issues of its own, as it was almost impossible for only three justices to handle the workload.
14. The court decides all cases involving the death penalty
As is the case with a lot of supreme court systems in various states, the Illinois Supreme Court decide all cases involving the death penalty. In reality, it only makes sense that the court would decide cases involving something so serious. In almost every case, this is the way that states who have a death penalty handle things. It would be irresponsible to allow a lower court system to handle something where the stakes are so high. Of course, this isn’t the only thing that the Illinois Supreme Court handles. It may be the most important thing and even involve the most high-profile cases that are decided by this particular court system, but it certainly isn’t the only type of cases that they are involved in.
15. They also decide cases that have been overturned in smaller courts
Of course, the Supreme Court also decides cases that have been overturned in smaller courts throughout the state. This is typical of most Supreme Courts and the one in Illinois is indeed operated in much the same way as others throughout the United States, at least when it comes to this particular issue.
16. They have a special department to handle potential cases involving judges
They also have a special department that handles cases involving judges. If someone accuses a judge of some type of wrongdoing, it is this particular department that is responsible for determining whether or not that accusation is accurate and then to hear the case.
17. They supervise every court within the state
The Illinois Supreme Court supervises every other court system within the state, which is no small task. One would think that this particular court system has enough to do without the need to supervise all of the smaller courts within the state. However, this is the way that this particular court system has operated for a number of years. All in all, it was done this way to ensure that a certain level of integrity remained throughout the Illinois court system, regardless of the particular court in question.
18. Justices currently serve 10 year terms
These days, justices can expect to serve longer terms whenever they are elected to the Illinois Supreme Court. In fact, they typically serve 10-year terms and then there is an option for them to serve an additional 10 years. As such, it’s vitally important that the right justices are chosen for the job. For all intents and purposes, the overwhelming majority of them remain in that position for quite some time. Of course, there are policies in place to ensure that any justices that are serving are doing the best job they can possibly do. As such, there are always extenuating circumstances where one justice could potentially be removed if the need were to arise. This could be as a direct result of some type of legal issue or due to health concerns. Fortunately, justices are now elected as opposed to being appointed, an important point when you’re talking about someone who could potentially be serving for the next 20 years. One of the more interesting things is that the same court system that decides cases brought against judges and other court systems throughout the state are the ones who are typically appointed to review cases brought against justices serving on the Illinois Supreme Court. As a result, it is often necessary for the state court to seek higher advice from the federal Supreme Court in the event that one of their own justices has allegations brought against them. Otherwise, it quickly becomes a conflict of interest that doesn’t serve either side very well.
19. They now have seven justices
It’s worth noting that this particular court system now has seven justices that serve at any one particular point in time. It’s interesting to note that the number of justices that serve on the Illinois Supreme Court have changed numerous times throughout the years, as you can probably tell from any of the other points made throughout this article. At the moment, there are no plans to change the number of justices that serve or the terms that they are allowed to serve. However, that’s something that could always change in the future, as evidenced from the number of times that this has already happened.
20. They typically only meet five times a year
It could potentially be argued that the Illinois Supreme Court has one of the most curious schedules of any court system within the United States. They only meet on the second Monday of the month. Considering the importance of the cases they decide, that in and of itself would probably seem odd enough in and of itself. However, things get even more interesting when you note that they don’t meet every month. September through May, the court only meets every other month. During the summer, the months of June, July and August, they don’t meet at all. It makes one wonder how they decide all of the cases that a state supreme court would need to decide when they only meet five times a year.