Judicial Article of 1964

Under the Judicial Article of 1964 the judicial power of Illinois was vested in a Supreme Court, and Appellate Court and Circuit Courts. On the trial court level all courts other than the Circuit Courts were abolished and all their jurisdiction, judicial functions, powers and duties were transferred to the respective Circuit Courts.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court was composed of 7 judges, elected from 5 judicial districts. Cook County was the First Judicial District. The remainder of the state was divided into 4 Supreme and Appellate Districts. 3 Supreme Court judges were elected in the First Judicial District. One was elected from each of the other judicial districts. 4 judges constituted a quorum and concurrence of 4 was necessary for a decision. Judges of the Supreme Court were elected for 10-year terms. The Supreme Court exercised original jurisdiction in cases relating to revenue, mandamus, prohibition and habeas corpus. It had appellate jurisdiction in all other matters. Appeals would go from the Circuit Court directly to the Supreme Court in cases involving revenue, a question arising under the federal or state constitutions, habeas corpus or appeal by the defendant from sentence in capital cases.

The Supreme Court was given the authority to establish rules for trial procedure. In fact, general administrative authority over all courts was vested in the Supreme Court to be exercised by the Chief Justice who was selected for a 3-year term by the members of that court. To assist the Chief Justice in this task, the Article provided for an administrative director and a staff. In this Article the increased attention of the Supreme Court to the development, interpretation and administration of law in Illinois can be discerned.

Appellate Court

The Appellate Court was organized in the same five judicial districts as the Supreme Court. It consisted of 24 judges, 12 in the First District (Cook County), and 3 in each of the other four districts. Appellate Court judges were elected for 10-year terms. Concurrence of 2 judges was necessary for a decision.

All final judgments of the Circuit Court except those directly appealable to the Supreme Court and acquittals on the merits in criminal cases were, as a matter of right, appealable to the Appellate Court in the district in which the Circuit Court was located. To assure a complete determination of any case being reviewed, the Appellate Court was empowered to exercise any necessary original jurisdiction. Appeals from the Appellate Court were to the Supreme Court in cases where a question arose concerning the state or federal constitution for the first time, as a result of the action of the Appellate Court, or when a division of the Appellate Court certified that the case was of such importance that it should be decided by the Supreme Court. In all other cases the Appellate Court was the last court of appeal unless the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal.

Judicial Circuit Divisions

The Article provided that the state should be divided into judicial circuits of one or more contiguous counties. There were 21 such multi-county circuits. Cook and DuPage counties were single county circuits until 1985 when Will County also became a single county circuit.

Section 8 of the Article provided that judicial circuits should be established from time to time by law. The Article specified no maximum number of circuits; and therefore, it was flexible for meeting further needs. There was only one Circuit Court in each circuit. This court had "unlimited original jurisdiction of all justifiable matters". By giving jurisdiction to the Circuit Courts and establishing only one Circuit Court, the Article avoided and eliminated the problems of complex and often overlapping jurisdiction and all the legal problems that stemmed from the numerous courts of special jurisdiction which had grown up during the previous years.

Circuit Court

The Circuit Courts had 3 categories of judges: Circuit Judges, Associate Judges and Magistrates. The Circuit Judges had the full jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, and the power to make the rules of the court. They were elected on a circuit-wide basis. One Circuit Judge was elected by the Circuit and Associate Judges as Chief Judge of the Circuit. He was the manager of the Circuit with general administrative authority in his Circuit subject only to the authority of the Supreme Court. He assigned cases, assigned duties to court personnel, and determined time and place of court sessions.

Associate Judges had the full jurisdiction of the Circuit Court. They voted for the Chief Judge but they did not have rule making authority and could not be selected as Chief. There had to be at least one Associate Circuit Judge elected in each county of the state. Both Circuit Judges and Associate Judges had six-year terms.

Magistrates were appointed by the Circuit Judges and served at their pleasure, without terms. While they had the full jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, only certain cases were assignable to them. This assignability was determined by law. The law enabled the Supreme Court to expand the matters assignable to lawyer magistrates. The Chief Judge could further limit and determine which matters were assigned to Magistrates in his circuit. Magistrates generally were assigned civil cases when the amount of damages or the value of personal property claimed did not exceed $15,000; and quasi-criminal and criminal cases, generally, where the maximum punishment did not exceed a fine of $1,000 or imprisonment for 1 year or both. Magistrates also were assigned internal administrative duties within the court. The authorized number of magistrates to be appointed was proportionate to the population. In addition to the number of magistrates authorized by statute, the General Assembly empowered the Supreme Court to allocate the appointment of 40 Magistrates to the circuits upon a showing of need.

Changes to the Judicial System

The Judicial Article of 1964 introduced important innovations in the Illinois Judicial System. Under Section 11 of the Article, judges, once elected, were permitted to run for reelection not as members of a political party or against a candidate, but on their own record. The electorate voted yes or no on retention of the individual judge, and the judge had to receive a majority to be retained. Section 10, however, provided for the initial selection of judges by party ballot. Any candidate who ran for an elective judicial office for the first time was required to be "nominated by party convention or primary and elected at general elections..."

Section 16 provided that judges could not "engage in the practice of law or hold any office or position of profit under the United States or this state or any other municipal corporation or political party". Section 15 also stated that no person could be eligible for the office of judge unless he was a citizen and licensed attorney at law of this state and a resident of judicial district, circuit, county, or unit from which elected. This was a clear attempt to establish a judiciary as a full time profession in Illinois, and to raise its efficiency, objectivity, and effectiveness.

Commission of Judges

Section 18 established a commission of judges composed of 1 Supreme Court, 2 Appellate Court judges selected by the Appellate Court, and 2 Circuit Judges selected by the Supreme Court with the power to retire for disability or to suspend or remove any judge from office for cause. Thus, the judiciary rendered judgment on its own members rather than having the General Assembly exercise that authority.

Supreme Court Governance

The Supreme Court was further required to report annually to the General Assembly. Here again provisions were made to develop the judiciary as an autonomous professional and independent arm of government cooperating with, but not dominated by, the General Assembly.