Expect a hard-fought battle over the vacant seat on the Illinois Supreme Court for the Fifth District, which includes fabled Madison County (Jan. 5 and links from there) as well as 36 other counties in the southern part of the state. The race pits Democratic candidate Gordon Maag, heavily backed by trial lawyers and himself formerly of the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River, against Republican Lloyd Karmeier (site), who’s garnering support from business and lawsuit-reform backers such as the Illinois Civil Justice League. (Sanford J. Schmidt, “Tort reform takes on political edge”, Alton Telegraph, Feb. 28; Kevin McDermott, “Tort reform is key issue in race”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 2). Both men currently serve as judges; the Illinois State Bar Association deems Karmeier “highly qualified” and Maag “qualified” for the high court post. (Jeff Smyth, “State Bar Releases Supreme Court Candidate Evaluations”, The Southern Illinoisan, Jan. 29).
One reason the race will be closely watched: under Illinois’s unusual system of judicial selection, the supreme court justice for the district appoints judges to vacancies on the lower courts within the 37 counties. Karmeier starts as an underdog: “No Republican has won the 5th District seat since 1969. Since then, every occupant has been a resident of Madison County. Karmeier lives in Washington County.” (Michael J. Berens, “Business running in judicial contest”, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 8). In the 1997 case of Best v. Taylor Machine Works, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down what had been one of the most wide-ranging liability reform measures enacted by a state legislature. (Richard E. Anderson, “When Judges Run Amok”, at Doctor’s Company site).