CHICAGO (CBS) — Facing a well-funded campaign by wealthy Republicans to oust him from his seat, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride appears poised to lose his bid for retention to a third 10-year term.
Kilbride needed at least 60% of the vote to retain his seat. Voters in 21 counties in the 3rd Judicial District he represents are weighing in on whether he should get another term, and with nearly 98% of precincts reporting, unofficial results show Kilbride had only about 56% support.
The Chicago Tribune reports Kilbride has conceded defeat.
“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,” Kilbride said in a statement, according to the Tribune. “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.”
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Although Illinois Supreme Court retention elections do not list a party affiliation on the ballot, he was first elected to the state’s highest court as a Democrat in 2000, and the fight over his retention has broken down almost entirely on partisan lines, as wealthy Republicans have funded an effort to remove him, which would leave the court with a 3-3 split among Democrats and Republicans.
Republicans made a concerted effort to defeat Kilbride, portraying him as a puppet for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was implicated earlier this year in a sweeping federal bribery case against ComEd, which has admitted to trying to influence legislation by providing jobs and contracts to the speaker’s allies.
While Kilbride has received millions of dollars in campaign funds from the Madigan-controlled Democratic Party of Illinois over the years, he has said those donations never played any role in his rulings from the bench. He’s dismissed Republican attacks on his record as mudslinging.
A yes vote on retention would allow Democrats to keep a 4-3 majority on the Illinois Supreme Court, while knocking him out of his seat would give Republicans a chance at taking control of the court in a race to win his seat outright in 2022.
The fight has led to a record-setting haul of contributions to both sides, with more than $11.7 million in donations combined, the most ever for an Illinois Supreme Court race.
Billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin has been the largest donor to the effort to vote Kilbride out, contributing $4.5 million to the anti-Kilbride committee Citizens for Judicial Fairness. The committee has raised a total of $6,189,500 in contributions, including $1 million from conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein, $350,000 from conservative think tank Illinois Opportunity Project, and $75,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national caucus of GOP state leaders.
Meantime, Kilbride’s campaign committee, Kilbride for Supreme Court Judge Committee, has raised $5,540,494.49, largely from various labor unions. His largest single donation came from the Democratic Party of Illinois, controlled by Madigan.
If Kilbride loses his seat, the remaining justices could appoint an interim successor until the next statewide election in 2022.