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Illinois to get second Black woman on State Supreme Court

First District Appellate Justice Joy Cunningham

First District Appellate Justice Joy Cunningham will become the second Black woman on the Illinois Supreme Court after Chief Justice Anne Burke announced her retirement on Monday, September 12. In July, Lisa Holder White, a Black Republican, was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the vacancy of Rita Garman.

Cunningham will replace Justice Mary Jane Theis, who will serve as the court’s next chief justice.

Burke is the wife of longtime Alderman Ed Burke (14th), who is facing federal bribery, racketeering and extortion charges as he awaits trial. Anne Burke’s last day on the bench is November 30.

Her announcement to retire surprised many. Since 2019, she has served as chief justice on the state’s highest court. Anne Burke has served on the court since 2006. She was selected by the other justices to serve as the leading justice for a three-year term that began in late October 2019. In 2008, she won her first 10-year term. She won another term in 2018 to represent the 1st District, which covers Cook County.

“I have been blessed to serve as a Supreme Court Justice for the past 16 years and have loved working with my staff, colleagues and Judicial Branch staff to serve the people of Illinois,” Anne Burke said in a statement.

“The past three years as Chief Justice have been a challenging time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am thrilled with the progress made by the Illinois Courts.”

In December 2006, Joy Cunningham became a Justice of the appellate court.

She attended the City University of New York where she received a Bachelor of Science degree. She later attended John Marshall Law School in Chicago where she earned a law degree in 1982.

Before joining the Illinois Appellate Court, she served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for the Northwestern Memorial Hospital System, which includes Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Memorial Foundation.

Prior to joining Northwestern Memorial Hospital in 2000, she served as a Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, where she had a diverse assignment, including jury trials. She is admitted to practice law before the Illinois, New York, Federal and the Federal Trial Bars.

Over the course of her legal career, Cunningham served as Associate General Counsel for Loyola University of Chicago and Loyola University Health System, and as a litigator with the law firm of French, Rogers, Kezelis & Kominiarek.

She also served as an Assistant Illinois Attorney General and as a Judicial Clerk to Illinois Appellate Justice Glenn Johnson.

Cunningham was elected President of the Chicago Bar Association (2004-05), where she became the first African American woman to lead the nation’s largest municipal Bar Association.

She has also served on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Center for Conflict Resolution and the Center for Disability and Elder Law, and the Chicago Legal Clinic.

The author of several professional publications, Cunningham is a member of a number of professional and civic associations, including the American Bar Association, Chicago Bar Association, Cook County Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association and Women’s Bar Association of Illinois.

She has been recognized for her volunteer service to several community and civic organizations including the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Chicago Association for the Education of Young Children and the March of Dimes. She is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and the Chicago Network.

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