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‘I am not a judicial activist,’ Supreme Court candidate says

Supreme Court-appointee Burke now runs for full term

He isn’t pleased with how the Illinois Supreme Court is portrayed these days, so he’s telling all prospective voters: Vote for me and you won’t get an activist judge.

Justice Michael Burke is a Supreme Court appointee who recently launched a campaign to win his first elected seat on the state’s top court. Burke pledged to adhere strictly to the law if voters extend his appointed term.

“I will put politics completely away from what we do,” Burke said during a campaign stop in La Salle with Shaw Media. “Partisan politics should never inform how we decide cases as judges. The citizens who expect justice from us deserve much better than that.”

Burke is a former prosecutor who’s spent 29 years on the bench in circuit court, appellate court and, since last year, the state supreme court. He was appointed to fill the seat left by retired Justice Robert R. Thomas and now seeks a term of his own.

Besides his experience, Burke is campaigning on his law enforcement background (he was a longtime prosecutor) and integrity, citing many bar polls giving him high scores for impartiality.

“My philosophy is very simple, and that is the Constitution says what it says,” Burke said. “I am not a judicial activist, and what that means is someone who tries to put their stamp on the law and what they believe the law should be, as opposed to what the Legislature says the law is.”

Burke said he is vaccinated but otherwise declined to discuss his position on mandates and infection controls, citing the pending and anticipated lawsuits likely to cross his docket. He similarly declined to discuss other hot-button topics, citing his belief that it is for the Legislature, not the judiciary, to decide them.

Burke more openly discusses his positions on the administration and structure of the courts. He said he’s “a fan” of alternate-dispute resolution and of providing self-help resources to the public at a time when the courts need to be more accessible to people of limited means.

Burke said he’s tabbed a finance committee to provide campaign funding, a process he pledges to have no part of. Campaign disclosures show Burke with a small amount of campaign cash (about $15,300 through June 30) and his staff’s work is “not going to change one bit of what I do.”

Serving on the Illinois Supreme Court, he said, has been both challenging and “a dream job,” one that he never actually dreamed of getting.

“If you talked to me when I was in law school and said, ‘You’re going to be on the Supreme Court someday,’ then I’d have said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

Burke graduated with honors from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and then The John Marshall Law School (now the University of Illinois at Chicago Law School), where he finished second in his class.

He resides in Elmhurst with his wife, with whom he has four children and seven grandchildren. If successful in winning and after fulfilling a 10-year term, he plans to retire and cheer on Chicago sports teams (he’s a big Sox fan) and work on his golf game.

“I’m going from horrible to bad,” he said. “I’m on an upward trend.”

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.