Timeline of Judicial History of Illinois
1673 - The Illiniwek, a Native American confederation consisting of Cahokias, Kaskaskias, Mitchagamies, Peorias, and Tamaroas, encounter French explorers who refer to the people and country as "Illinois."
Prior to this time, and for 100 years
after, the different Native American tribes all had a very similar culture and a clear code of conduct with a simple structured judicial system. The basic unit of their judicial system was the primary family. The families lived with other primary
families forming extended families that joined together into a clan. Each clan or tribe had chief or leader, who performed both the legislative and judicial activities for the group. All misconduct and violations were handled by the family and since
there was no executive branch, general consent had to be given for execution of all decisions. Once agreed upon, the decision was final, without any chance or appeal at a higher level. However, because the leaders were highly respected, the decision
was generally carried out without he use of force.
1699 - With the number of French settlers increasing, France established the Commandery of Illinois. The commandant appointed judges for each settlement, who executed orders and locally tried
all minor cases.
1722 - A French Provincial Council was established to exercise primary jurisdiction in matters civil as well as criminal. This was the first recorded account of a court in the territory.
1755 - The French and Indian
1763 - France was defeated by Great Britain. The Treaty of Paris, ending the war, gave all. territory east of the Mississippi River to Great Britain. The English settlers tried unsuccessfully impose English common law on French
1778 - The Republic of Virginia, under its charter, took possession of Illinois. The English court system was fundamentally maintained, but with minor alterations. The changes included the election of seven judges in each settlement
Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Peoria, and Vincennes).
1779 - The County Lieutenant of Illinois, John Todd reorganized the courts into three districts. Each district had six judges. Because of the number of French inhabitants, French law was the basis
of the reorganization. However, the influence of English Common Law was growing.
1784 - Virginia relinquished possession of Illinois to the newly formed United States of America. As part of the Northwest Territory, Illinois was under the
jurisdiction of a general court of three judges.
1793 - Constructed in 1737, the Cahokia Courthouse was purchased by the Common Pleas Court and used as the political and judicial center in the Northwest Territory until 1814.
- The Supreme Court of Illinois Territory was established along with the county courts. General civil and criminal jurisdiction was given to individual supreme court judges, who were required to ride the circuit.
1818 - Illinois became the
twenty-first state. The judicial system for the new state was established in its first constitution. A supreme court of four judges, with appellate jurisdiction, was created. The court met at the state capital in Kaskaskia.
1820 - The state
capital was moved to Vandalia. The court meet there until the capital was moved again in 1848 to Springfield.
1824 - The legislature appointed new supreme court judges and created five circuit courts. Five judges were appointed to hold court
in the five circuits.
1827 - The legislature abolished the office of circuit court judge, reduced the number of circuits to four and required the four supreme court judges to hold court throughout the circuits.
1829 - The Legislature
created a circuit north of the Illinois River, the fifth circuit. A circuit court Judge was appointed to hold court to that circuit.
1835 - The legislature appointed circuit court judges for the other four circuits, thus freeing the supreme
court judges from circuit court duty. A sixth circuit was created and a circuit judge appointed.
1838 - The legislature increased the number of circuits to nine and appointed additional circuit judges.
1841 - The legislature abolished
all circuits and all circuit court judgeships.
1848 - The second state constitution made the judicial branch independent of the legislature. It also reduced the size of the supreme court to three judges. For the first time, supreme court
judges were elected, not appointed. Nine circuits were created. One judge was elected for a six year term in each circuit. Until 1897, the supreme court met alternately in Springfield, Mt. Vernon, and Ottawa.
1862 - Illinois voters failed
to ratify a new state constitution proposed by the legislature. If enacted, the constitution would have limited the supreme court to three judges, and required the court to hold one or more terms annually at Springfield, Mt. Vernon, Chicago, and Peoria.
The proposed constitution would have reduced the number of circuits from twenty-eight to seventeen and permitted the governor to commission all judicial officers. Each county would have a court with probate and other civil jurisdiction. County courts
would also have exclusive appellate jurisdiction over justice of the peace courts. Major changes would have been made to the grand jury system. In particular, grand juries would have been abolished but for crimes punishable by death or incarceration
in the penitentiary, and when used, the grand jury would have been reduced to 15 jurors from the previous 23 jurors.
1870 - The third state constitution created a supreme court with seven judges who had the same jurisdiction as under the
constitution of 1818. Also, clerks of the circuit and county courts were to be elected.
1879 - Legislation was passed requiring sessions of the supreme court to be held only in Springfield.
1897 - Legislation was enacted allowing
the supreme court to appoint three circuit court judges to a branch of the appellate court.
1899 - Legislation established a juvenile court (later called family court) in Cook County.
1905 - The legislature passed an act allowing
for branch circuit courts in any county.
1906 - Legislation established the Municipal Court of Chicago with jurisdiction in civil claims.
1908 - The Supreme Court Building in Springfield was dedicated. The structure with all its
exquisite materials and fine handcraftsmanship was completed for less than the $500,000 appropriated.
1922 - As was the case sixty years earlier, the Legislature proposed a new state constitution, and the voters chose not to ratify it. The
proposed constitution provided for a supreme court, an independent appellate court of four districts, circuit and county courts, and justices of the peace. The supreme court was to have nine judges. Three would be elected from the districts containing
Cook County. There would be seven districts in all. The supreme court was to be given original jurisdiction in cases relating to revenue, quo warranto, mandamus, habeas corpus, prohibition, and other matters of public importance. The appellate court.
was to have received all appeals from circuit and county courts. Supreme court judges were to have a ten year term, while the term for other judges was for six years but for justices of the peace who were to serve two year terms. It would have provided
that the supreme and appellate courts each appoint a clerk for a term of six years, instead of one being elected. Additionally, the new constitution would have required that state's attorneys be licensed in this state for practice.
The number of courts had increased tremendously in the last 100 years. In Cook County alone there were 208 courts: circuit court, superior court, family court, criminal court, probate court, county court; twenty-four city, village, town, and municipal
courts; seventy-five justice of the peace courts; and 103 police magistrate courts. Many courts had overlapping jurisdiction presenting a confusing pattern of justice.
1964 - A new Judicial Article to the 1870 constitution passed by the voters
placed the judicial power of the state in a supreme court, an appellate court with five districts, and twenty-two circuit courts. This created a successful unified court system.
1970 - The fourth state constitution was approved by the voters.
The basic structure of a unified, three-tiered judiciary was retained. The new Judicial Article also provided for circuit judges and associate judges, and created the Judicial inquiry Board and Courts Commission to handle complaints against judges.