By Marcia M. Meis, Director, Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts
The 1970 Illinois Constitution provides in Article VI, Section 2 Judicial Districts:
“The State is divided into five Judicial Districts for the selection of Supreme and Appellate Court Judges. The First Judicial District consists of Cook County. The remainder of the State shall be divided by law into four Judicial Districts of substantially equal population, each of which shall be compact and composed of contiguous counties.”
While talks of redrawing the judicial districts have surfaced over the years, the four districts outside of Cook County have remained the same throughout the life of the 1970 Illinois Constitution. That is, until June 4. On that Friday, Governor Pritzker signed legislation designating new judicial district maps into law. Historic change had arrived.
Recognizing the significant logistical challenges to these changes, the Supreme Court acted quickly to enter an order on June 7 pausing the new map from going into effect until the courts were ready to implement the new boundaries. The order references the numerous operational adjustments needed to the processing of appeals and the administration of the justice system in Illinois necessitated by the new judicial district map, including changes to e-filing, case management systems, redistribution of staffing and judicial resources, training for judicial stakeholders, and education of the public and members of the bar.
The Court also created a Judicial Redistricting Task Force (Task Force) to rapidly study and report on the impact of the new map and provide recommendations moving forward. The Task Force charge includes not only identifying the logistical issues to be addressed and developing a plan for implementation, but also assessing the fiscal consequences of these changes.
The Task Force is led by 2nd District Appellate Justice Mary S. Schostok, 4th District Appellate Clerk Carla Bender and ISBA Past President Dennis Orsey and supported by AOIC leadership staff. The Court is greatly appreciative of their efforts to lead the navigation of this historic change.
In addition, multiple subcommittees have been formed to address the specific needs of the various branches and stakeholders affected by this legislation.
- Supreme Court
- This subcommittee is tasked with approximating the needs—and, where appropriate, the costs of those needs—that redistricting will impose on the operations of the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office, Supreme Court Marshal’s Office, and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC).
- Appellate Court
- This subcommittee is tasked with approximating the needs—and, where appropriate, the costs of those needs—that redistricting will impose on the operations of the respective districts of the appellate court.
- Circuit Courts
- This subcommittee is tasked with approximating the needs—and, where appropriate, the costs of those needs—that redistricting will impose on the operations of the eight judicial circuits (5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 18th) that will be moving to a new appellate district due to the new judicial district boundaries.
- Service Agencies (OSAD, ILSAAP, AG)
- This subcommittee is tasked with approximating the needs—and, where appropriate, the costs of those needs—that redistricting will impose on the operations of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of the State Appellate Defender, and the Attorney General’s Office.
- Private Bar, Legal Aid, and Self-Represented Litigants
- This subcommittee is tasked with reviewing the impact of the judicial redistricting on the private bar, legal aid, and self-represented litigant communities, identifying any needs or issues that must be addressed, and outlining a plan for any educational efforts or administrative modifications that need to be made.
- Procedural Issues
- This subcommittee is tasked with addressing appellate procedural issues once the pause order is lifted and appellate districts change to the new map.
These subcommittees have all met and are working on reporting back recommendations for their constituent groups. These individuals are to be applauded for their willingness to support this important initiative on such quick notice.
The new and old judicial maps included with this article illustrate the significant changes in the new districts. The 5th Judicial District now stretches from Cairo to Champaign - a distance of close to 250 miles. The 4th Judicial District now extends from Jerseyville to Rockford - an even further distance of over 275 miles. The change moves one-third (8) of our 24 judicial circuits into a new appellate district.
As of this writing, no legal challenge has surfaced. Notwithstanding that possibility, the Judicial Branch is forging ahead with preparations to meet the challenge of transitioning to the new boundaries and do so in a way that maintains access to justice pursuant to the powers and duties entrusted to us by the Illinois Constitution.