SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois Supreme Court is making history. For the first time in the court’s more than 200-year history, women make up a five to two majority.
“When the court was completely populated by men, no one commented on that, because that was the order of the day, that was the way things were,” Justice Joy V. Cunningham said. “Things have been shifting, and we’re now in a new era.”
Justices Cunningham, Elizabeth Rochford, Lisa Holder White, Mary K. O’Brien, and Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis make up the female majority.
Holder White, the first African American woman to serve on the court and who was sworn in July, also expressed the importance of this historic moment.
“I think it’s important to demonstrate that as women, we’re certainly not limited by our gender, and that we can do things like serve on the Supreme Court of various states and work in law,” Holder White said.
O’Brien, who previously served on the 3rd District Appellate Court, won a close race in last month’s election, defeating Justice Michael Burke. She said she wants to increase people’s knowledge about the role of the court.
“One thing that we can do is to increase our outreach and efforts to speak with civic organizations, school groups,” O’Brien said.
Cunningham is the second African American woman to ever serve on the court.
“I think it’s good for young girls to see that and to recognize that they can do that as well, and it’s very difficult to be what you can’t see,” Cunningham said. “And so now, if they’re able to see that they’re women, they’re people of color, I think it’s a good thing as a role model for young people.”
Cunningham took over former Chief Justice Anne Burke’s seat. Burke served in that role for three years and was on the court for 16.
“People see me as her successor justice on the court,” Cunningham said. “It’s big shoes to fill, and it’s somewhat daunting, but I feel that I am up to the task.”
Not only are more women serving on the bench, but Democrats grew their four to three majority to a five to two majority. But all the justices said it won’t impact the rulings.
“As a court, we have to make decisions based on the law,” Holder White said. “It really shouldn’t have anything to do with our party affiliation.”
There have been eight woman to ever serve on the Illinois Supreme Court. Justice Mary Ann McMorrow became the first woman to serve on the court in 1992.