Don't tar wife with husband's misdeeds

Don't tar wife with husband's misdeeds

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SPRINGFIELD -- Folks interested in the composition of the judiciary ought to also be concerned about “due process.”

After all, that’s what we expect from judges. Shouldn’t judges receive the same treatment in return?

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

Justice Anne Burke’s elevation to chief justice on the Illinois Supreme Court, has some politicians hopping mad.

“Illinois voters should be appalled that Justice Burke has been named chief justice in the wake of her husband being under federal investigation. It’s scandalous that we would have a couple like that, the wife of an indicted alderman sitting as the Chief Justice of our Supreme Court. In Illinois, you just can’t make it up,” congressional candidate Jeanne Ives, of Wheaton, told the DuPage Policy Journal.

Anne’s husband, Ed Burke is Chicago’s longest-serving alderman. He faces 14 federal corruption charges.

Ives called Burke’s promotion a “power grab.”

I like Ives. I respect her. And I’ve voted for her. But I’m really scratching my head at this new assertion. It was Burke’s turn to lead the court and she assumed the spot.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Illinois rotates the chief justice spot among each of the members of the high court. It was Anne Burke’s turn to be elevated to the top spot this year and she took it.

That is hardly a Machiavellian-type power snatch. If anything, it’s a routine assumption of administrative responsibilities.

Any regular reader of this column knows my strong libertarian sentiments. I’m skeptical of government. Anne Burke’s legal philosophy is different than my own. That’s OK. In a democracy, we want diverse points of view in the judiciary.

Here is why it is wrong to criticize Burke’s appointment as chief justice:

  • In this country, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yes, Ed Burke is accused of wrongdoing. But the operative word in that sentence is “accused.” He has yet to have his day in court.
  • Anne Burke has not been charged with doing anything wrong. Yes, she is married to someone who is accused of wrongdoing. But are we now a society that punishes spouses for the alleged transgressions of their partners?

I sure hope not.

It is a pretty sexist assumption to view an accomplished jurist as a mere appendage of her husband.

Over the 13 years she has been on the high court, I’ve read many of Anne Burke’s opinions. I’ve agreed with some, disagreed with others. But I’ve found them all well-reasoned.

She began her career as a gym teacher, raised five children, went to law school and served in a variety of other judicial positions before being elected to the state supreme court.

In 1968, she was one of the founders of the Special Olympics.

Yes, being married to Ed Burke has helped her career. If I lived in his ward, I can’t imagine voting for him. His philosophy on government is not mine. But that’s not what is at issue here.

What is at issue is whether a 75-year-old woman with a long and distinguished legal career should be punished for the purported actions of her husband?

It’s not just Republicans who are treating Anne Burke like a political leper.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, had planned to have the judge swear her into office. That’s hardly surprising. After all, Anne Burke officiated at Mendoza’s 2011 civil wedding that took place in Anne and Ed Burke’s home.

But after Ed Burke received a 14-count indictment from the feds, Mendoza said “sayonara” to Anne. Mendoza didn't want Anne Burke swearing her into office.

It just goes to show you if you want a friend in Springfield, buy a dog.

And if you want justice, look beyond Anne Burke’s current critics for due process of the law.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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