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2019 Supreme Court Highlights


December 17, 2019

Now that 2019 is coming to a close and 2020 is just around the corner, I thought it was appropriate to focus attention on a few of the most significant Supreme Court events and happenings that transpired over the course of this past year. It has been a productive and successful year, due in large part to the leadership of Justice Karmeier, whose term as Chief Justice ended on October 25, 2019.

In March 2019, the Court continued its pursuit of building bridges between the judicial and legislative branches of government. This initiative began in March 2015, when the Supreme Court invited our Governor and our entire state legislature to observe the Court in session at its first evening oral argument in over a century. Due to its success, the event was repeated in May 2016.

This year, while the Court was in Springfield for its March Term, all seven Illinois Supreme Court Justices hosted the leadership and new members of the General Assembly at the Supreme Court Building for a "Law School for Legislators" get-together. The event was intended to familiarize those legislators with the workings of the Court and to foster dialogue between the judiciary and the General Assembly to improve communication, cooperation, and coordination between these two branches of government. Members of the Supreme Court spoke about the role of the Supreme Court and how it relates to the legislative branch. Also, the Director of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts (AOIC), Marcia Meis, and Michael Kramer, Chief Judge of the 21st Circuit, spoke about how our state courts are funded and how the lack of funding for probation affects the implementation of justice at the local level.

In September 2019, the Supreme Court harkened back to its roots as an itinerant court, when it heard oral arguments at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey. Several hundred people attended the event, including teachers and students from local schools. Chief Justice Karmeier declared that moving beyond the courthouse to hear arguments at other locations throughout the state brought the Court to the people and was an integral part of the Court's ongoing efforts to educate the public on the critical work of the Court.

Also, in September, members of the Illinois Supreme Court, joined by trial court judges and staff members from the AOIC, attended the National Judicial Leadership Summit on Child Welfare. The purpose of this summit, which was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was to create a national agenda relevant in today's world that would offer guidance to judicial systems on ways to serve families through intervention and community legal support. The goal of this agenda is to keep families intact, avoid involvement by child protective services, and keep children out of the foster care system. For those already in foster care, the summit addressed goals of strengthening accountability to ensure efficient and effective family justice. The Illinois attendees, working as a team, developed a state-based action plan, identifying strategies aimed at enhancing the administration of child welfare cases and improving communication between the courts, DCFS and service providers. The Illinois team will continue to meet to advance the strategies identified in the action plan.

In October, the Illinois Supreme Court, through the Illinois Judicial Conference (IJC), unveiled its Strategic Agenda for the Illinois Judicial Branch for 2019 through 2022. The IJC consists of 29 judges and non-judges, with the Supreme Court Chief Justice serving as Chair. The judicial members include a second Supreme Court Justice, as well as judges from all levels and geographic areas of the state. Non-judicial members include various justice partners, such as court clerks, administrators, attorneys, and members of the public. Under the leadership of Chief Justice Karmeier, the IJC crafted a mission statement and a vision statement, and identified core values for the judicial branch, along with goals and strategies designed to achieve them. The Strategic Agenda will serve as a guide for the future of the judicial branch as it begins the implementation phase over the course of the next three years.

Also, this past October, a multi-disciplinary team from Illinois, including myself, AOIC Director Meis, along with judges and representatives of behavioral health and the Illinois Department of Human Services, attended the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators Mid-West Regional Summit on Mental Illness held in Deadwood, South Dakota. Our Illinois team advanced several strategies for reform with the goal of improving court and community responses to those suffering from mental illness. One initiative will be the creation of a statewide, multi-branch task force focused on recognizing successful community practices already in existence across the state and developing and expanding these practices to achieve better and more uniform behavioral health treatment strategies throughout Illinois. The team will continue to meet to plan and execute these strategies.

The Supreme Court's role as the final arbiter of this state's judicial matters is an important one, but not its only one. Our State Constitution provides that general administrative and supervisory authority over all courts is vested in the Supreme Court. As a result of this constitutional directive, our administrative duties are extensive. The Supreme Court has created more than 20 committees and commissions to assist in fulfilling its administrative objectives. The activities highlighted above are just a few of the many matters that the Supreme Court has participated in this past year in furtherance of its administrative mandate. I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about the work the Court does outside the courtroom and our efforts to improve the provision of judicial services in this state.

Happy New Year!