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Kilbride Concedes Apparent Non-Retention on State's High Court


Justice Tom Kilbride of Illinois’s 3rd Judicial District has apparently come up short in his bid retain his seat on the Illinois Supreme Court for a third term.

“Though votes continue to be counted, I am disappointed in the apparent outcome. I want to thank the voters of the Third Judicial District for twice placing their faith in me to uphold the sacred principles that guide our judicial system," said Kilbride in prepared remarks.

"Serving on the Illinois Supreme Court has been the honor and privilege of my lifetime, and I am proud of the legacy I will leave behind, including a court that is more open, transparent and accessible to all, regardless of economic means."

Retention requires a simple yes-or-no vote, meaning Kilbride appeared on Tuesday’s ballot unopposed. Justices have to receive 60 percent of the vote to stay on the court for another 10 years.

But Kilbride had only earned 55.3% of the vote with 96% of precincts reporting late Tuesday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Even without an opponent, Kilbride’s campaign – and his detractors’ efforts to thwart it – turned into one of the most expensive and contentious battles in the court’s history; $11.5 million was spent, shattering the previous record of $9.4 million spent on 2004 a race between Republican Lloyd Karmeier and Democrat Gordon Maag.

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider claimed victory in Kilbride's retention race, as well as the loss of Democrat Judy Cates for the 5th Judicial Circuit race in southern Illinois.

"With Pritzker Democrats no longer able to use taxpayers to bail them out of our state’s financial disaster and a Supreme Court no longer stacked with a majority of Madigan pawns, Illinois now has a chance to enact much needed reforms. We hope the governor, speaker, and Democratic leaders finally join us in the effort to put taxpayers first.”

The campaign against Kilbride was funded partly by donations from two of Illinois’s most prominent billionaires: hedge fund manager Ken Griffith, who donated $4.5 million, and shipping magnate Richard Uihlein, who pitched in $1.5 million.

Financy also has been contributed through the Chicago-based Judicial Fairness Project, which doesn’t disclose its donors.

Kilbride raised $2.48 million in an effort to keep his job. Over half of that money--$1.42 million--has been donated by the Democratic Party of Illinois that is chaired by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Kilbride is part of a 4-3 Democratic majority and Republicans have been eyeing his seat in Illinois’s 3rd District as an opportunity to flip control of the state’s highest court. Illinois has five judicial districts, four of which elect one justice each. But the 1st District, which encompasses Cook County, elects three justices to the court, and has traditionally produced easy wins for Democrats.

With Kilbride, whose party affiliation won’t be listed on Tuesday’s ballot, losing his retention campaign, the remaining justices will appoint a placeholder until the next election in 2022. Voters in the 3rd District, which spans 21 counties, will then have the opportunity to replace Kilbride with either a Democrat or Republican.

Kilbride has drawn Republican ire for a 2016 decision that kept a controversial redistricting referendum off the ballot. The “Fair Maps” amendment would’ve established an independent redistricting commission, stripping legislators of the power to draw political boundaries. Kilbride wrote the majority opinion for the case, ruling that the referendum was impermissible with the framework of the state constitution.

Detractors derided the opinion as party politics – a move to keep control of mapmaking firmly in the hands of Democratic lawmakers – and Kilbride’s critics viewed it as a political favor to Madigan.

Kilbride has long denied any ties to Madigan, citing the independence of the judicial branch.

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