Minority candidates sound alarm over prospect of all-white Illinois Supreme Court

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many are urging Illinois residents to pay attention to the race to fill the rare vacancy left open on the state's Supreme Court.

Drew Peterson, Jason Van Dyke and now Jussie Smollett all mark high profile criminal cases that have demanded action from the Illinois Supreme Court. Despite so many important decisions that come before them, justices rarely get attention.

"Most people in Illinois have never met a Supreme Court justice. They wouldn't know a justice if he or she stood next to them in a line at the grocery store," said John Marshall Law School Professor Ann Lousin.

There's a vacancy on the court due to the retiring of Justice Charles Freeman.

The only African American on the court, Freemen held the seat for 30 years. Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. is serving out the rest of Freeman's term.

Neville is among the candidates running for the job permanently. His competition includes appellate court justices Jesse Reyes, Nathaniel Howse Jr., Margaret Stanton McBride, Sheldon Harris, Cynthia Cobbs and lawyer Daniel Epstein.

"It is critical we create a fair system so wise judges can achieve fairness," Epstein said.

Howse said, "The most important job is to protect the civil rights of every individual."

Meanwhile, Reyes and Cobbs are advocating for diversity on the court.

"I'm a son of immigrants came from a blue collar neighborhood," said Reyes.

Cobbs said she's "the only African American woman running for the Supreme Court."

Diversity has driven the race. If Freeman is not replaced by a minority, the high court will be all white.

"The Chicago Bar Association believes there should be diversity on all our courts from the highest down to the circuit," said Maryam Ahmad, first vice president of the Chicago Bar Association.

With the exception of Daniel Epstein, the Chicago Bar Association has rated all the other candidates qualified or highly qualified.

The term for an Illinois Supreme Court Justice is 10 years.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.