The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 12 (1999-00)

Justice S. Louis Rathje
Candidate for Illinois Supreme Court, 2nd Judicial District

Except in very rare circumstances, the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision is the final decision. The only court that can review a decision of the Illinois Supreme Court is the United States Supreme Court, and such review is extremely rare. I understand firsthand the awesome responsibility that comes with the office of Illinois Supreme Court Justice. And I, more than any of my challengers, possess the experience, the ability, and the independence to assume that awesome responsibility.

28 Years in Private Practice

Before being elected to the circuit court in 1992, I practiced law for 28 years, more than twice as long as either of my Republican challengers. After graduating from Northwestern University Law School in 1964, I was engaged in the general practice of law, with a primary emphasis on municipal, administrative, and land use litigation. Many of my cases dealt with fundamental constitutional questions, including enforcement of the state and federal equal protection clauses, state and federal due process rights, and the power of eminent domain. I personally have tried at least 50 cases to verdict.

Argued Before the Illinois Supreme Court

On the appellate side, I briefed and/or argued at least 30 civil appeals relating primarily to municipal law, zoning law, and administrative law. Again, many of these appeals addressed the types of fundamental constitutional questions that the Illinois Supreme Court faces every term. I have argued before the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court, and I have practiced before the United States Supreme Court.

Death Penalty Experience

On the judicial side, I am the only candidate to have served in all three levels of the Illinois judiciary, first in the circuit court and the appellate court and now in the Illinois Supreme Court. In the circuit court, I presided over 43 civil jury trials to verdict. In the appellate court, I authored the decision in 459 cases. In the Illinois Supreme Court, I have authored 14 majority opinions and 12 separate writings. I am the only candidate in the race with experience handling complicated death penalty appeals, which comprise almost one-third of the Illinois Supreme Court’s annual docket.

Selected by Illinois Supreme Court

Two things, more than any others, speak to my ability to hold the office of Illinois Supreme Court Justice. First, when Justice John Nickels retired at the end of 1998, the remaining justices of the Illinois Supreme Court were charged with selecting his replacement. They could have chosen any circuit court judge or appellate court justice in the second district, including either of my challengers. They selected me. I know of no better merit selection committee than the Illinois Supreme Court itself.

Authored 14 Majority Opinions

Second, in the 14 months that I have sat on the Illinois Supreme Court, I have authored majority opinions addressing direct capital appeals, post-conviction capital appeals, the constitutionality of both state and local legislation, and questions of criminal and civil procedure. My opinions, concurrences, and dissents speak for themselves, and I stand by them as a testament to my qualifications for the office of Illinois Supreme Court Justice.

Judicial Independence

My appellate and Supreme Court jurisprudence demonstrates my commitment to the fair and impartial administration of justice. As a justice of both the appellate court and the Illinois Supreme Court, I have authored decisions favoring both the State and the defense, business and consumers, plaintiffs and defendants, doctors and patients. These decisions demonstrate that my only "agenda" is to follow the law and the constitution wherever it leads. To be sure, such independence means that I occasionally will author a decision that does not sit well with a particular interest group or even with my closest friends and family. But that is the duty and obligation of every judge, and it is the duty and obligation to which I am committed.

Merit Selection at the Ballot Box

Judges and lawyers often debate whether merit selection or election is the best way to choose the judiciary. This year, both systems are at work. In 1998, six justices of the Illinois Supreme Court were asked to make a selection based upon merit. They selected me. On March 21, 2000, the citizens of the Second Judicial District will have the opportunity to endorse the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision by electing me to a 10-year term.

DCBA Brief