Illinois senators split on judge votes, exposing division

The two Democrats initially said they supported all four nominees

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., arrives through the Senate Reception Room on her way to the Senate chamber in this archive photo. Duckworth and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., split on a quartet of judges nominated to benches in their home state.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., arrives through the Senate Reception Room on her way to the Senate chamber in this archive photo. Duckworth and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., split on a quartet of judges nominated to benches in their home state. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 18, 2020 at 5:08pm

A quartet of Senate votes on District Court judges this week revealed a rare fissure between home-state colleagues in Illinois.

The Senate confirmed two judges to the bench in the Northern District and two in the Southern. Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin voted for all four, but fellow Democrat Sen. Tammy Duckworth voted for just two.

The Illinois judges were selected as a package: State Republicans chose three nominees and the fourth was picked by Democrats, a long-standing tradition, according to Durbin. The parties then negotiated until they had agreement.

“Under this system, neither side gets everything their way,” Durbin said in a lengthy statement explaining his votes. “For several decades, this bipartisan process has kept both parties at the table and has served Illinois well.”

Iain D. Johnston and Franklin Ulyses Valderrama were tapped to be on benches in the Northern District of Illinois, and Stephen P. McGlynn and David W. Dugan were nominated for the Southern District of Illinois.

Johnston and Valderrama received 77 and 68 votes in favor, respectively, while Dugan and McGlynn each received only 55 yes votes.

Senators don’t get much input these days on circuit court judges in their states, but they do on the district level because Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham has said he continues to honor the blue slip tradition for that level. Home-state senators return the small blue-tinted questionnaires, checked with “approve” or “oppose,” for judges on the district level.

Durbin, who is in his fourth term, joined Duckworth, who is in her first, in joint statements in February and December voicing support for Dugan and McGlynn.

In a statement provided to CQ Roll Call, Duckworth said the two nominees were “reviewed by the non-partisan expert screening committee” and were deemed qualified.

“After my own careful review of their qualifications, however, I found both have a troubling record on constitutionally-protected reproductive health rights demonstrating extreme bias against women’s rights and science that undermines my confidence that they could serve as the fair and independent judge that every Illinoisan deserves in the courtroom,” she said.

During a June Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on nominees that included the picks from Illinois, both Dugan and McGlynn faced questions from Democrats on past comments on abortion, LGBTQ rights and the Affordable Care Act.

Dugan was asked in written questions about a candidate survey he completed for the Illinois Right to Life Action when he was running to be a circuit judge for the Third Judicial Circuit in Madison County, in which he said the Roe v. Wade decision was “sorely misplaced.”

“As a judicial nominee, it would be inappropriate for me to now comment on whether the Supreme Court rightly or wrongly decided a particular case,” Dugan responded.

During the hearing, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked Dugan about his personal views on abortion, but he declined to say, arguing it would be “unfair” to people who appear in front of him in the future for him to express his personal views.

Durbin recognized there was opposition to the picks but said he voted for them to uphold the long-standing judicial selection system.

“These nominees have made statements and expressed views with which I disagree, particularly on matters involving reproductive rights,” he said in his statement. “But as part of our bipartisan state process, I supported all four nominees in the package.”