On June 28, 2022, the State of Illinois will be holding primary elections. Primaries are elections that political parties use to select candidates for a general election. Then each party’s candidates run against each other in that general election. Our general election in Illinois will be held on November 8, 2022.
Most voters are familiar with some of the positions on the ballots such as governor, senators, attorney general and secretary of state. But some of the most important candidates in our elections are the local judges who are running for office. Judges hold important and powerful roles in our society. They have the power to put people in jail in a criminal case, they preside over divorces, evictions, a wide range of civil cases and even traffic tickets. This year, 75 candidates are running for a total of 29 judicial vacancies throughout Cook County alone. There are also subcircuit races and an appellate court race this year.
Diversifying the Judiciary
Many voters admit that they have no idea who any of the judges are on the ballot, yet we are all likely to be affected by the judicial system at some point in our lives, whether you will go through a divorce, criminal case, or a probate dispute. Moreover, and especially across Cook County, the courts do not reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. With a population of approximately 5 million people, Cook County is the most populous county in Illinois, only second in size to Los Angeles county in California. According to a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report from August 2021, Hispanic or Latinos make up a little over 25% of the county, followed closely by the Black community at 23%. The white population stands at about 42% in Cook County.
Yet as of 2018, only 7.5% of judges in Cook County associated as Hispanic and though Blacks fared better with 19% representation in the judiciary, the numbers are still low. As expected, at 70% the overwhelming majority of Cook County judges are white. Why does these numbers matter? Studies show that the more diverse the judiciary the likelihood of an increase in the fairness of outcomes. This is important in a criminal justice system like Cook County’s where defendants are disproportionately Latino and Black.
Do your research
So how do you choose who to vote for? Popular ideas include voting for all the women, voting for all the Italian last names, voting for all the Latino last names, not voting for someone with the same last name as your mean 4th grade teacher, or voting for all the funny names! Unfortunately, this isn’t the best way to pick a judge. Instead, the Alliance of Bar Associations (different groups of lawyers in Illinois) have devised a great way to inform the voters on a candidate’s qualifications. Some of the bar associations that participate in this process are the Asian American Bar Association, the Black Women Lawyer’s Association, the Hispanic Lawyer’s Association of Illinois, the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago and the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois.
Judicial candidates and judges who are up for retention can participate in a forum where they are interviewed by the bar association representatives and submit a long application for the screening process. The Alliance of Bar Associations then rate the judges based on their interview, an investigation report conducted by an anonymous association member, and overall qualifications. The rating system is based on the assessment of a candidates’ qualifications which include their legal knowledge and ability, sensitivity to diversity and bias, character, impartiality and integrity, judicial temperament, diligence and punctuality and health and age.
By relying on seasoned attorneys and finding a bar association whose members hold the same values as you, you can make an informed decision on election day. You can go to: www.voteforjudges.org to review the bar association’s findings and then make your final decision for election. Don’t worry, you can bring your own cheat sheets to the booth on election day to help. Just don’t forget to vote in the primaries on June 28th.
Claudia Farfan Badillo is an attorney concentrating in consumer bankruptcy and is the owner of her own firm: Badillo Law Group, P.C. She was born and raised in Chicago, is of Mexican and Colombian descent and is a native Spanish speaker.
She has been an attorney for over 14 years and is a graduate of Chicago Kent College of Law where she clerked for the Cook County Public Defender’s office in the Felony Trial Unit.
Cover Photo Credit: cottonbro: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-with-a-vote-pin-4669099/