The Chief Justice’s Hubby

Few entrenched machines ran better than Chicago’s, or lasted as long. One of the dinosaurs of the Democratic cash machine was Alderman Ed Burke, who owned the 14th Ward. Somebody had to run it, so why not Burke?

Until this year, Burke’s 14th Ward organization was one of the only pure political machines in the country. The other is Madigan’s 13th Ward.

But the king of the 14th now faces 14 federal counts of corruption. Federal prosecutors earlier this year accused Burke of extorting the owners of a Burger King, allegedly withholding a remodeling permit in order to pressure them to hire his private law firm to handle their property tax appeals.

He’s under indictment, which is what he should be if there is evidence to support the allegations that he’s corrupt. Problem solved? Not for his wife.

Anne Burke is an accomplished lawyer. She helped start the Special Olympics. These facts should not prevent criticism arising from her 50-plus year marriage to a 50-year Chicago political boss: Ed Burke.

And so?

Illinois Supreme Court Justices chose Anne Burke as their chief on Sept. 10. One could almost hear the gears turning on the Chicago machine, a hobbled but still functioning apparatus now in the sights of federal investigators.

Burke’s appointment to the highest judicial post in the state is a shameless act in a state sorely lacking trust in its government.

Ah. Well, that’s a bit sticky, her appointment coming while her husband is under indictment for corruption. But then, she was chosen by the other justices, and unless they too are pawns of the machine, it would be presumed they made their choice based on her merit.

Other than sleeping with the enemy,* why should C.J. Burke be tainted by Boss Burke?

In April, Anne Burke wrote the majority opinion in a decision awarding a former union employee eligibility to receive a decade’s worth of teacher pension benefits despite having worked only a single day in the classroom as a substitute teacher. That union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and its affiliate the Chicago Teachers Union, are major players in Chicago politics – long giving money and political muscle to Cook County Democrats.

In another problematic example, Anne Burke wrote the unanimous opinion defending Chicago’s burdensome food truck regulations, which Ald. Ed Burke supported as a member of City Council.

She wrote the opinions, one for a majority (because if she wasn’t in the majority, her opinion would be a dissent) and the other for a unanimous court. It doesn’t matter whether anyone agrees with the rulings or not, but that it’s not as if Chief Justice Burke had some voodoo to make the other justices vote her way for the benefit of Boss Burke’s machine. Unless the rest of the court is similarly corrupt.

No one deserves blame for the actions of their spouse. But in this case, it’s impossible to separate them. Chicago politics, City Council and the state’s judicial branch often intersect.

It’s as possible or impossible as one decides it is apparently, since the “no one deserves blame” line may be politically correct but contradicts the line that follows. And it’s not as if they offer anything that smells of logic to support it.

There is a problem of optics, obviously, as it looks pretty awful for a chief justice’s spouse to be a guest of Club Fed. Most of the time, bad optics are bad enough.

But there’s a substantive problem here as well, even if it’s unmentioned and the examples of dubious decisions don’t seem particularly dubious. It Boss Burke has been corrupt all these years, running his machine with cruel efficiency and bringing home at least his share of the bacon, how is it possible this clearly smart lawyer didn’t know it?

And if she did know it, if she was well aware of her hubby doing the dirty in the 14th Ward, even if she wasn’t dancing with him, and did nothing, said nothing, enjoyed the munificence of the machine, can her integrity remain intact?

*If this sounds remotely familiar, it’s likely because former Westchester County District Attorney, later Justice, Jeanine Pirro’s hubby Al went to prison for tax evasion, which she avoided claiming that she never read her tax returns. Who knew her husband was a tax cheat?

Had any other District Attorney or Supreme Court Justice made such a claim, it would likely have been ridiculed beyond measure, but when it’s Pirro, people had little difficulty believing that she was sufficiently clueless as to escape culpability. She has since built a punditry career out of her obliviousness, which enabled her to suffer in the prison of her own making.

16 thoughts on “The Chief Justice’s Hubby

  1. Kirk A Taylor

    Taxes are my area of expertise…

    I can ABSOLUTELY believe that one spouse had no idea that the other was cheating on their taxes. At least half my clients one spouse handles everything, and the other just cluelessly signs with ZERO knowledge.

    That said, enjoying the fruits of ill gotten tax gains prevents you from avoiding the repayment of tax evasion you didn’t know about, but obviously can allow to avoid criminal liability.

      1. Kirk A Taylor

        You would be stunned…
        Successful, smart, capable people often have so much on their plate that they are perfectly happy dumping literally EVERYTHING about taxes on the other side, and intentionally not thinking or worrying about if it’s right or not.
        Some don’t even pay attention to the refund or balance due amounts!
        This was one of the things that took some serious getting used to.

        To answer your question specifically…I can’t answer without giving too much away about my clients…

        1. delurking

          I find it interesting that you find this stunning. Why? One of the main benefits of being married is division of labor.

          Yes, my wife and I are like this.

      2. Skink

        I wouldn’t have a clue. I have only a vague idea of what we have, and beyond one bank, where it is. I know the ATM gives me cash. I guess I could be colored complicit.

        1. Rxc

          I do our taxes and file them electronically, so my wife has no idea whatsoever what is being filed. Hell, I don’t even understand what I am filing, because I use Turbotax, and just fill in some of the fields, and let t it come up with the results. I used to regulate nuclear power plants, but the tax code is too dense for me.

          When we lived in France, I did the USA forms and sent the return to a specialist in Paris who condensed them into 4 numbers to enter in 4 boxes on the French return, plus one letter quoting an obscure internal French IRS memo about Americans in France, so that we did not pay anything in France. 350 euros/yr, well spent to avoid discussions with the French fisc.

      3. mistah charley, ph.d.

        my spouse has two doctoral degrees, while i only have one – i do the tax return, she signs it without reading it – at least she used to, now we submit it electronically so there is no signing in the literal sense

        neither of us is particularly educated about money

        as for the judge and her husband – i doubt she’s as innocent as my own dear wife – but her colleagues elected her and that suggests she’s a good choice for keeping things going the way they generally go

  2. Black Bellamy

    It never ceases to amaze me that grown adults with positions of responsibility will come out and just say some grade-school bullshit to cover their ass and expect reasonable people to believe it. Yeah I didn’t know my husband of 100 years was doing whatever. I was busy!

  3. SurlyClerk

    There’s another possible substantive problem. If any matter came before her where a contributor to her husband’s campaign for public office (which may or may not be the case) was a party, or where a regulation that her husband “supported” was at issue, she should have recused herself and been screened from any of the court’s discussions about the case.

  4. JorgXMcKie

    I spent 50 years in Illinois and 30+ of that observing the politics closely. A majority of the SC has been an adjunct, at the very least, of the Chicago Machine for at least the past 30 years.
    And the political elite of the Dem and GOP political types are called “The Combine*” for a reason. 1) they very frequently work in combination in order to 2) harvest the cash and taxes of the state for their own benefit.
    *For the non-farm types, a combine is a crop harvester.

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