Illinois Constitution of 1870

Supreme Court
The Constitution of 1870 spelled out the new judicial system in Article VI. The Supreme Court was comprised of 7 judges whose terms of office were 9 years. Four judges constituted a quorum and the concurrence of 4 was necessary for decision. It had the same jurisdiction as it had under previous constitutions and was to hold annual terms as established by the 1848 Constitution. The state was divided into 7 districts for election of the Supreme Court judges. These districts could be changed by law to maintain equality in population, but must be composed of contiguous counties.

In 1879, legislation was enacted requiring that terms of the Supreme Court were to be held only in Springfield. The Court was given authority to make rules regulating practice for the judiciary in Illinois. It also provided that the Supreme Court submit reports to the Governor on the deficiencies and problems of the laws in Illinois and suggest bills to the General Assembly designed to solve these problems. Combined with Article VI, Section 11, which provided for the establishment of an Appellate Court, we can discern the development of the Supreme Court as a body established for initiating, improving and interpreting the laws of Illinois. No longer was the Supreme Court to be a traveling Appellate Court.

Appellate Court

The Constitution provided for the establishment of an Appellate Court by the General Assembly after 1874. Four such courts were established in 1877. The first was in Cook County, the second was in the rest of the Northern Division, the third was in the Central Division and the fourth was in the Southern Division. Each court consisted of 3 judges appointed by the Supreme Court from the Circuit Court, or in the case of Cook County, from the Superior Court. They were appointed for 3 years and held 2 court terms annually. 2 judges were a quorum, and the concurrence of 2 was necessary for a decision. The jurisdiction of the court was appellate only.

Judicial Districts
By Act of Legislature of March 28, 1873, judicial districts were organized in accordance with the 1870 Constitution. 26 circuits were formed, exclusive of Cook County, which formed its own circuit. The circuits were to be as equal as possible in population, economy and territory, and consist of contiguous counties. Lake and McHenry Counties, along with Boone and DeKalb Counties, constituted the Second Judicial Circuit. Theodore D. Murphy of McHenry County was elected as the Circuit Judge. Circuit Court judges were elected within their circuit for a 6-year term. At least 2 terms of court were required to be held each year in each county.

An Act of the Legislature of June 2, 1877 again changed the judicial circuits of the state. The existing 26 circuits were reduced to 13. The Second Circuit containing Lake, McHenry, Boone and DeKalb Counties, was united with the 4th Circuit containing Kane, DuPage and Kendall Counties, to form the new 12th Circuit.

Another change in the make-up of the judicial circuits occurred by an Act of April 23, 1897, which associated Lake and McHenry Counties with Winnebago and Boone Counties to form the Seventeenth Circuit.

Population Changes

During these years, cases in Cook County increased at a much greater rate than the population. To deal with the larger caseload, provisions were made to add to the number of judges in both the Superior and Circuit Courts of Cook County. The old Records Court of the City of Chicago was changed into the Criminal Court of Cook County with the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in criminal and quasi-criminal cases. The terms of the Criminal Court were held by the judges of the Circuit and Superior Courts. The General Assembly increased the number of judges in the Circuit Court of Cook County until eventually, in 1915 that number reached 20.

The constitution, again, provided for County Courts in each county. 1 judge was to be elected to that position for a 4-year term, however, where it was expedient to do so the General Assembly could create a district of 2 or more counties under the jurisdiction of1 judge. This court was to be the county court of record.

Probate Courts
The constitution of 1870 and subsequent legislation in 1877 and 1881 established Probate Courts in counties where the population was over 70,000. Judges of these courts had 4-year terms. In 1903 an act of the General Assembly provided that the probate judges and county judges may hold court for each other and perform each other's duties.

Courts of Records

In 1901, an act was approved concerning courts of records in cities. It was amended in 1901, 1911 and 1913. It permitted from 1 to 5 judges in each City Court. However, the number of judgeships could not exceed one for every 50,000 inhabitants. The court could be established only in cities of at least 3,000 inhabitants. The judges were given 4-year terms. These courts had jurisdiction concurrent with the Circuit Court, except in cases of treason and murder.

Court of Claims
In 1903 an administrative agency called a Court of Claims was established in Illinois to hear all cases of claims of any nature against the state. Three 3 were appointed to the court by the governor.

Justice of Peace Courts
The constitution also provided for the continuation of Police Magistrates and Justices of the Peace.

Dissatisfaction with the Justices of Peace and Police Magistrate system became so serious that a 1904 amendment to the constitution abolished Justices of Peace, Police Magistrates and Constables in the City of Chicago and limited the jurisdiction of all other Justices of the Peace, Magistrates and Constables in Cook County to the area outside the City of Chicago. It also permitted the establishment of a Municipal Court in Chicago.

Juvenile Court
Legislation in 1905, 1906 and 1907 established the Municipal Court of Chicago with jurisdiction in civil claims for money or property and in non-felony criminal cases. The court was created to meet the special needs of a rapidly growing urban area. Legislation approved in 1899 and amended in 1907 established a Juvenile Court (later called the Family Court) in Cook County. 1 judge of the Circuit Court was to hear all cases involving persons under the age of 21 termed by the act as dependent, neglected or delinquent. This act was the first of its kind in any state.

Organizational Changes
These specialized courts demonstrated the needs of a growing population and the developing independence, importance and responsibility of the courts in Illinois. They were very functional, but the problems caused by the creation of new courts for new needs soon outweighed the advantages.

Many of these specialized courts had overlapping jurisdiction causing organizational and administrative problems. There was no real administrative authority to unify, coordinate and supervise the various courts and judges. A unified court system was needed.

It was during these years of organizational growth and confusion, that in 1957 the Legislature detached Lake and McHenry Counties from the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit and created the Nineteenth, to be comprised of only these2 counties.