April 19, 2017
The Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission is working with the Illinois Bicentennial Commission to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the judicial branch with events, projects, publications, and exhibits that will highlight the history and importance of the Illinois judiciary.
Planned publications include a biographical compilation of all 116 justices who have sat on the Supreme Court bench. Projects include an outreach effort to Illinois circuit clerks to identify important, famous, or representative cases. Events include a gala to celebrate 200 years of the judicial branch. An exhibit is being planned that will rotate among law school and colleges in Illinois.
Significant dates in the history of the judicial branch include August 26, 1818 (the passage of the first Illinois Constitution, creating the Supreme Court); October 9, 1818 (the election of the first four Supreme Court justices); December 3, 1818 (Illinois’s admission as the twenty-first state), and July 12, 1819 (Supreme Court meets for first term in Kaskaskia).
Illinois’ legal history is important to study because of the impact that Illinois law had in the growing country and because of the many significant members of the Illinois bar. Illinois became a major transportation hub because of a rich agricultural economy paired with booming industrialization in Chicago. This environment created new legal questions that the courts had to decide. This body of law traveled westward as the population continued to seek new frontiers.
Lawyers and judges in Illinois law have garnered national attention for their body of work. The first lawyer to have settled in Illinois was John Rice Jones, who became one of the first Missouri Supreme Court justices. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas battled each other in the courtrooms of Illinois as well as in the political arena. Myra Bradwell attempted to become the first woman licensed in Illinois. Clarence Darrow became world-renowned for his legal career. Four Illinois judges became members of the U.S. Supreme Court (David Davis, Melville Fuller, Arthur Goldberg, and John Paul Stevens).