Home Local Republican Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman to retire in July; court will appoint a replacement to serve through 2024 election

Republican Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman to retire in July; court will appoint a replacement to serve through 2024 election

by staff

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman, a Republican who two decades ago became only the second woman to sit on the state’s highest court and later was the second woman to serve as chief justice, will retire in July, the court announced Monday.

Garman, who was appointed to the seven-member court in 2001 to replace retiring Justice Benjamin Miller and then was elected the following year, would have been up a for a once-a-decade retention vote in November. Instead, with Garman’s retirement effective July 7, a little more than a week after the primary election, the court will appoint a replacement to fill the seat until the 2024 election.


Her departure comes at a moment of upheaval for the court, which in 2020 saw a sitting justice, Democrat Thomas Kilbride, rejected for retention by voters — the first time that’s happened since retention elections were adopted in 1964.

The Democratic-controlled legislature, in an effort to protect the party’s 4-3 majority on the high court, subsequently redrew the boundaries of the state’s judicial districts and instituted new campaign finance restrictions for those running for the bench.


Garman, a 78-year-old Danville resident, holds the Supreme Court seat for the 4th Judicial District, which covers a broad swath of central Illinois. But the redrawn map moves her into the new 5th District, which stretches from Champaign County to the southern tip of the state. The seat is held by Justice David Overstreet, also a Republican.

In a statement announcing her retirement, Garman, who first donned judicial robes in 1973 and is the longest-serving judge in the state, did not give a reason for stepping down beyond saying that she felt it was “the right time for me to step back from my public role and allow someone else to assume this all-important position.”

Since graduating from the University of Iowa’s law school in 1968, Garman said she has faced “many uphill challenges” in her legal career, which took her from being an assistant state’s attorney in Vermilion County to leading the state’ high court as chief justice from 2013 through 2016. Along the way, she also worked in private practice and was a judge at the circuit and appellate court level.

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“When I graduated in 1968, I had a difficult time getting hired as a lawyer, as there were simply not many women lawyers practicing,” Garman said. “I was turned down for a number of open positions, once being told ‘I don’t know what I would do with you because no one wants to talk to a woman lawyer.’

“Today, I am proud that these opinions are a relic of the past.”

Garman is one of three women on the Supreme Court bench, along with Chief Justice Anne Burke and Justice Mary Jane Theis, both Democrats.

During Garman’s tenure, the high court ruled on a number of highly contentious political issues.


In 2015, she joined the six other justices in striking down a pension reform law, championed by former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, as a violation of a clause in the Illinois Constitution that says retirement benefits, once granted, cannot be “diminished or impaired.”

A year later, she and two other Republican justices were in the minority as their four Democratic counterparts blocked a ballot question that would have asked voters whether the state constitution’s constitution should be changed in an effort to remove much of the politics from legislative redistricting.

Garman was born in Aurora and raised in Oswego, graduating Oswego High School at the top of her class in 1961. She graduated with highest honors in economics from the University of Illinois in 1965.


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