Illinois Supreme Court Justices chose Anne Burke as their chief on Sept. 10. One could almost hear the gears turning on the Chicago machine, a hobbled but still functioning apparatus now in the sights of federal investigators.
Burke’s appointment to the highest judicial post in the state is a shameless act in a state sorely lacking trust in its government.
Anne Burke is an accomplished lawyer. She helped start the Special Olympics. These facts should not prevent criticism arising from her 50-plus year marriage to a 50-year Chicago political boss: Ed Burke.
Anne’s husband is among the last of a dying breed. As a young Irish upstart in the Daley Democratic machine, Ed Burke married Anne in 1968. The next year, he was elected to his late father’s aldermanic seat on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
He would go on to become the Mike Madigan of City Council, amassing near-total power over what legislation passed and failed. And like Madigan, he cashed in on his political clout as a property tax attorney on the side. Burke controlled slating for Cook County judges as a Democratic Party don and wielded a patronage army out of City Hall.
Until this year, Burke’s 14th Ward organization was one of the only pure political machines in the country. The other is Madigan’s 13th Ward.
But the king of the 14th now faces 14 federal counts of corruption. Federal prosecutors earlier this year accused Burke of extorting the owners of a Burger King, allegedly withholding a remodeling permit in order to pressure them to hire his private law firm to handle their property tax appeals.
With Ed Burke facing prison time, Anne will be chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.
No one deserves blame for the actions of their spouse. But in this case, it’s impossible to separate them. Chicago politics, City Council and the state’s judicial branch often intersect.
One example helped put Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in office.
Ed Burke’s extortion charges included an allegation that he illegally solicited campaign donations to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s mayoral campaign. So when news broke that Ed Burke held a fundraiser at his home for Preckwinkle, she quickly pivoted and said it was Anne, not Ed, who hosted. She returned the $116,000 she raised at the event.
That was a bad excuse. The Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct bans judges from raising funds for political candidates. Political consultant Jeffrey Orr filed a complaint and the Illinois Judiciary Board opened an investigation. The board cleared Anne Burke of all wrongdoing, but refused to offer any explanation. Nothing to see here.
Notably, Preckwinkle hired Burke’s son to a nearly $100,000 county position in 2014.
In April, Anne Burke wrote the majority opinion in a decision awarding a former union employee eligibility to receive a decade’s worth of teacher pension benefits despite having worked only a single day in the classroom as a substitute teacher. That union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and its affiliate the Chicago Teachers Union, are major players in Chicago politics – long giving money and political muscle to Cook County Democrats.
In another problematic example, Anne Burke wrote the unanimous opinion defending Chicago’s burdensome food truck regulations, which Ald. Ed Burke supported as a member of City Council.
What would appear to many Illinoisans as glaring conflicts of interest over the years have not appeared to raise red flags for the new chief justice.
They deserve better.