Jewish Identity and Judging: Seymour Simon of Illinois
37 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2012
Date Written: August 1, 2012
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Seymour F. Simon (1915-2006) would have filled the stereotype of the righteous man in Jewish lore. He was a man of principle, communicated those principles in an insistent tone to anyone who would listen, worked hard to further the cause of justice and earned a reputation as a committed public servant. Justice Simon served as Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court from 1980-1988 after having served on the Illinois Appellate Court from 1974-1980. Before winning election to the courts, Justice Simon was a politician, serving, inter alia, as an alderman in the City of Chicago and as President and Member of the Cook County Board. President of the Cook County Board is the second most powerful position in Chicago after the Mayor of Chicago. The Mayor at the time was Richard J. Daley, whose administration was the paradigmatic example of machine politics. Although Justice Simon began his political career as a member of the Daley team, as an alderman he soon became part of the opposition, and was elected County Board Chairman against the wishes of the machine. Ultimately, he was effectively banished from politics to the judiciary when the corrupt machine made it too difficult for him to be elected to any other post. He soon earned a reputation as an able and prolific judge. He led the Illinois Supreme Court in dissents, and one of the areas in which he became especially known was the death penalty. He voted against the death penalty in every case in which it was at issue, dissenting in every case in which the Court approved the imposition of the death penalty. Over time, his fears about the death penalty were born out, as the Governor of Illinois ultimately found it necessary to commute the death sentence of every convict on death row in Illinois. To anyone who knew him, Justice Simon’s Jewish identity was clearly important to him. He was always active in Jewish institutions. His sympathy for the underdog and the outsider are traits commonly ascribed to the Jewish values of Simon’s day. True to his character, Justice Simon departed the Illinois Supreme Court reportedly over what he viewed as misconduct by his colleagues who relied on information not on the record to deny a license to practice law to a reformed heroin addict and petty criminal. In his role as political and judicial dissenter, Justice Simon found himself in the traditional Jewish role of outsider, and he was not shy about playing the role of moral conscience of the community.
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