To allow for renovations in their permanent Springfield building, Illinois Supreme Court justices settled into Chicago on Tuesday to begin hearing several weeks of oral arguments -- the first time the state's highest judicial authority is sitting for a full term outside the capital in nearly 120 years.
Asked in a cellphone interview about the biggest hassle for him in the switch from Springfield to the larger metropolis, the court's chief justice, Thomas Kilbride, referred to the scene outside his car as he neared Chicago on a packed interstate Monday morning.
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"My most immediate problem is, I'm stuck in traffic," he said. Backed-up traffic on roads feeding Springfield, he added, is uncommon.
Since 1897, when legislators designated the capital city as the high court's permanent seat, justices have never held an entire term outside Springfield, said John Lupton, director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.
The reason for the first-of-its kind session in Chicago is that repairs are badly needed to the court's home building in Springfield -- an imposing neoclassical structure that hasn't undergone any notable renovations since construction was completed in 1908. At the time, the building cost around $450,000.
Renovating cracked walnut pillars and refurbishing historical ceiling paintings, as well as modernizing outdated heating systems and other upgrades is slated to cost the state $12.6 million. Renovation work is expected to take about a year to finish.
"This is the pinnacle of Illinois judiciary, so it should be a showcase for the Illinois people," Lupton said of the court building. After renovations, he said it should look more like it did when it opened its doors at the turn of the century.
On Tuesday, the justices heard arguments at the Michael A. Bilandic Building, across from the James R. Thompson Building where Gov. Pat Quinn's Chicago offices are located. Most of the court's core staff remains in Springfield in temporary offices.
Kilbride, who usually lives in the Quad Cities area in western Illinois, is one of three justices who will stay in Chicago hotels during the term. The others have homes in the Chicago area.
Kilbride said there's no reason to think rulings will be influenced in any way by the fact oral arguments will be held in Chicago rather than Springfield.
From a legal point of view, he said, "It should be business as usual."