Nathaniel Roosevelt Howse: Candidate profile
Office sought: Illinois Supreme Court, District 1
Family: Wife, Patricia
Occupation: Appellate Court Justice
Education: JD, Loyola University Law School
Civic involvement: Harold Washington Party, Justice Party, numerous church-based charitable causes
Previous elected offices held: Appellate Court, Circuit Court
Incumbent? If yes, when were first elected: No
Questions and Answers
1. Why are you running for the Illinois Supreme Court? What skills, qualities or experiences set you apart from your opponents?
I am committed to equal justice for all. One of the most important jobs of the Supreme Court is to protect the civil rights of every individual. I have this desire for equal justice for all because I have experienced unequal justice firsthand. I was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1951. I was required to attend segregated schools. When we went to the movies, I remember sitting in the balcony because of Jim Crow laws. My parents wanted a better life for us so we became part of the great migration and moved to Chicago.
After law school, I developed my own practice focused on civil and election law cases. In 1990, I was a lead attorney working pro bono to successfully represent the Harold Washington Party when the Cook County Democratic Party tried to prevent its formation and remove its candidates from the ballot.
On the appellate court, I led by example, completed all my cases by the end of each quarter whereas the average justice had 12-14 backlogged cases. As chair of the executive committee, I implemented a rule requiring justices who have cases on their dockets older than six months to focus on completing those cases first.
2. Please identify potential conflicts of interest that might arise if you are elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, including family members, former law partners, clients or companies or government agencies for which you have worked. How would you address such a conflict? I've been a judge for more than 21 years. Because of the length of my service as a judge, many of the conflicts you cited will not arise. I have a family member who is a lawyer and I would not hear cases where she participated. I scrupulously avoid any conflicts or appearances of conflicts of interest in hearing my cases. I would disqualify myself in any case required by Supreme Court Rule 63. The rule requires a judge to disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
3. If you are or have been a judge, have you ever recused yourself from a case? If so, was it in response to a motion or suggestion by a party to the case? In what circumstances should a Supreme Court justice recuse himself or herself?
I have served as a judge for more than 21 years. I have recused myself from cases on several occasions when it appeared that Supreme Court rule 63 required it. In addition, I have recused myself when I felt my impartiality or ability to hear the case fairly could be questioned. I have granted substitution of judges as a matter of right when a motion was timely filed by parties. I think a Supreme Court justice should recuse him or herself when required by Supreme Court rule 63.
4. How important is racial and gender diversity on the Illinois Supreme Court and across the judiciary? How would it guide your actions when making appointments to the bench? Please explain your answer.
Depending on the outcome of this election, Illinois could have a Supreme Court without a single person of color on the bench. That is big step backwards and a real problem when it comes to perspective and a judiciary that reflects the diversity of our state.
Representation matters. Particularly when our justice system is plagued with allegations of racial bias regarding sentencing and convictions, it's vital that the Supreme Court, and indeed all of our courts, reflect the diversity of Illinois.
If I am elected to serve as a Supreme Court justice and I am called to fill a vacancy in the circuit court, I will have a genuine, transparent, and fair application and selection process. In making selections, that qualifications of the applicant will be the most important factor. The qualities I look for that I believe will make someone a good judge include a broad range of legal experience and a demonstration of the ability to analyze legal questions in depth
5. What measures do you support for enabling the public to monitor court activities in Illinois? Should courts in Illinois be required to allow electronic recording by news media?
In most cases, I believe electronic recording by news media should be allowed. This is especially true in cases that involve alleged government corruption or malfeasance. There needs to be complete transparency in cases such as those.
In situations where anonymity is vital to the safety of a witness or the proceedings of the case, there should be exceptions. For example, in dealing with juvenile defendants or victims, their identity and privacy should be protected. Also, cases involving victims of sexual assault, whether juvenile or adult, should have an additional layer of privacy and protection.
6. Do you support public financing of campaigns for Illinois Supreme Court? Do you support political party slating for candidates for Illinois Supreme Court?
Yes, I support the pilot program proposed by the Illinois Reform Commission. Reducing the influence of big-money contributions to judicial campaigns is vital and should have happened a long time ago. It's a problem in politics generally, but particularly in judicial races, where impartiality and fairness are core principles.
Public financing is an intriguing alternative that could alleviate the problem, but it needs to be tested before being deployed on a large-scale basis. It's clear that the current system favors connected insiders and wealthy individuals, creating a barrier to those coming from everyday backgrounds.