SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is urging a no vote for Supreme Justice Thomas Kilbride's retention.
Chamber President and CEO Todd Maisch says Kilbride is a consistent vote for organized labor against the interests of businesses and the economy. He also argues Illinoisans can't trust Kilbride with redistricting reform. Kilbride was the deciding vote against the "Fair Maps" movement in 2016. Maisch believes voting against Kilbride's retention is the first step to re-establish balance in the courts.
"Illinois has a terrible national reputation for fairness in our courts. And unfortunately, Justice Kilbride is part of that reputation," Maisch added.
He also highlighted Kilbride's significant support of personal injury attorneys when cases appear before the court. For example, Kilbride was the only justice to agree with the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association that a man should be allowed to sue an ambulance driver when that individual, in fact, hit the ambulance.
"Seeking to politicize our state's highest court"
The Campaign team for Kilbride's retention responded to these claims Wednesday afternoon.
"It’s disappointing the Illinois Chamber of Commerce has chosen to align itself with a shadowy dark money group seeking to politicize our state’s highest court," the committee stated. "Justice Kilbride is endorsed by dozens of bi-partisan public safety officials throughout the district, and our state. They understand that the role of a Supreme Court justice is to uphold our Constitution and be an independent arbiter of the law, principles Justice Kilbride takes seriously and will not abandon for any reason, which is why the Illinois State Bar association has encouraged a 'Yes' vote for Kilbride."
The "dark money group" referenced by the committee is Lincoln PAC based out of Athens, Georgia. However, former Illinois Republican Congressman Mark Kirk has an affiliation with the group. Lincoln PAC gave $2,500 to Citizens for Judicial Fairness, a new campaign committee opposing Kilbride's retention. That group had just over half a million dollars as of Wednesday night. Other donors include Dick Uihlein, Donald Wilson, the Republican State Leadership Committee of Illinois, and the Judicial Fairness Project.
Illinois GOP hits back
Illinois Republicans have used Kilbride's close connection to longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan against him in their campaign. They argue trial lawyers in Chicago continue to work with Madigan to save Kilbride's seat.
"We all understand the return Mike Madigan has received from Kilbride after spending millions to elect Justice Thomas Kilbride in 2000 and retain him in 2010," stated IL GOP Chairman Tim Schneider. "Much less understood is the incestuous relationship between trial lawyers who also send boatloads of cash to Kilbride and then argue cases in front of the man at the Illinois Supreme Court."
The Illinois GOP adds Kilbride has received significant funding from firms during this election cycle since previous investments paid off.
"Just as Kilbride, in return for Madigan millions, has blocked term limits and struck down Fair Maps in an effort to protect the Speaker's power - so too has Kilbride returned the favor for his trial lawyer cronies," Schneider added.
Friends stand up for Kilbride
Still, several Republican judges and legal professionals warned voters about the "dark money" funneling into the campaign against Kilbride.
"Tom Kilbride has participated in over 1,800 cases while on the Supreme Court," stated Peoria Attorney Tim Bertschy. "His partisan critics can only point to a few decisions they don't like, and these are cases which the Court decided unanimously or where Justice Kilbride was only one vote in a minority decision. I have known Tom Kilbride for over thirty years. He is a man of unquestioned integrity and honesty, both personally and professionally."
Michael Kick, Former Kankakee State's Attorney and retired Chief Judge also called out the opposition.
"I've seen all aspects of our court system and have the highest confidence in Justice Tom Kilbride to fairly administer the law and treat everyone equally. The anonymous, big-money special interests that are distorting Justice Kilbride's record and trying to mislead voters should be ashamed of themselves," Kick stated.