Illinois Supreme Court races heat up

The labor union and trial lawyer-backed All for Justice independent expenditure committee has so far reported raising $3.5 million, with, I'm told, at least another $5 million in pledges. The committee's sole purpose is to back the two Democratic candidates running for the Illinois Supreme Court, Appellate Justice Mary K. O'Brien and Judge Elizabeth Rochford. And its spending is finally beginning.

A press release claimed, "an initial [advertising] buy of $3 million dollars," with "plans to spend millions more informing residents of the 2nd and 3rd districts of these extremists on the ballot."

The ad features a woman emphasizing that just "one seat" on the Illinois Supreme Court could imperil or preserve abortion rights.

"Mark Curran and Michael Burke want to ban abortion in Illinois, even in cases of rape and incest. Women put in jail for making their own medical decisions? That's not what I want for my kids. That's not what I want for anyone. Mark Curran and Michael Burke are too extreme and they don't belong on the Illinois Supreme Court."

The ad will almost surely face legal opposition. The Illinois Republican Party made a big deal last week about a similar TV ad aired by Supreme Court Justice Burke's Democratic opponent, Appellate Justice O'Brien.

The ILGOP demanded that O'Brien take down the ad, which claims, "Mike Burke says he agreed with the decision to overturn Roe. He's supported by the extreme groups that want to ban all abortion for Illinois women."

Burke is backed by anti-abortion groups. The first sentence in that excerpt, however, is hotly disputed by the Republican Party, which claims Justice Burke, "has not expressed any opinion on that issue or any issue that may come before the Illinois Supreme Court."

Justice O'Brien's campaign, however, pointed to Burke's attendance at an important Illinois right-to-life banquet. Burke said this year that, like the US Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, he too is a constitutional "originalist," meaning he refers back to the original drafting of the Constitution rather than subsequent court rulings when making a decision. He also noted that abortion is "not an enumerated right" in either the Illinois or the US constitutions.

It's very difficult to legally force a TV station to take down a candidate's advertisement. But, as we've seen in the past few weeks with Dan Proft's People Who Play by the Rules PAC ads for Darren Bailey, it's not nearly as difficult to force an independent expenditure committee to prove the truthfulness of what it's saying in its ads or see them yanked.

Time will tell if the new All for Justice ad stays up.

Meanwhile, the opposition research is starting to come out on Curran. My associate Isabel Miller posted some of it on CapitolFax.com last week, but expect more to emerge on topics like Curran's comments about the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection (the police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt should resign, he said) and on gay rights (Curran said at a rally opposing a same-sex marriage bill that the law would "result in the loss of liberty for those opposed to same sex marriage").

And, of course, there's abortion. Curran has attended anti-abortion rallies, donated some of his own campaign funds last year to Illinois Citizens for Life and praised Donald Trump for appointing Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, among other things.

Curran is also the former longtime sheriff of Lake County, which is fully in the 2nd Supreme Court District, and he may still have some residual name recognition from his 2020 race for US Senate, which Curran lost to Dick Durbin 55-39.

Money-wise, the Supreme Court races started about even in July, as far as the candidates were concerned. But that has changed considerably in the past month or so.

Democratic Justice O'Brien has since reported raising almost $1.6 million to Justice Burke's $13,000. Democratic Judge Rochford has reported raising $742,000 to the Republican Curran's $137,000, much of it from his family.

The Ken Griffin-funded Citizens for Judicial Fairness independent expenditure committee had more than $5.5 million in the bank at last check. It is not expected to help Curran, but is expected to jump in for Justice Burke. The Firewall Project, which is raising money to back Republicans for the Supreme Court and Greg Hart for DuPage County Board Chair, has reported raising $440,000 in the past few weeks.

But the Democrat-affiliated All for Justice IE committee is hoping to have a budget of as much as $8-10 million by election day. So stay tuned.

About The Author

Rich Miller

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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