This is the first of individual profiles of three Black candidates running for the Illinois Supreme Court on March 17
By Erick Johnson
Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. is an imposing figure. His credentials and skills as the second Black Illinois Supreme Court Justice can be as intimidating as his 6’4” frame.
These days Justice Neville is a busy man. He is seeking re-election in the state’s highest court. He’s the incumbent in the March 17 Primary, but the road to win a second term won’t be easy.
Neville is running against six tough candidates. Two of his challengers are also Black. There is concern that all three Black candidates will split the Black vote, thereby allowing a white candidate to win the position. That possibility has all three candidates campaigning hard to win the majority of the Black vote.
Whoever wins in March will be automatically elected to the position as there are no Republican challengers in the general election in November.
For Neville, the primary race is critical to the future of diversity and inclusion on the Illinois Supreme Court. A possible split vote has many Blacks concerned that it will result in an all-white seven-member court that will lack empathy and not understand cases involving people of color.
The Illinois Supreme Court hears many appeals cases throughout the year, many of which don’t make headlines or evening news. However, the state’s highest court was in the news last year after Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul filed a petition asking for a review of the 81-month sentence of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.
In 2018, Van Dyke was convicted of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm for fatally shooting 17-year old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Many in Chicago believed Van Dyke’s sentence fell far short of his conviction.
In his petition to the Supreme Court, Raoul’s filing called on the Supreme Court to direct Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan to vacate Van Dyke’s sentence for second-degree murder and instead impose a sentence on each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, which carried a stiffer sentence.
The Illinois State Supreme Court disagreed. In March 2019, the court denied Raoul’s petition. Justice Neville was the only Illinois Supreme Court member to fully disagree in his dissenting opinion.
The denial disappointed the Black community, but the case showed the need for Black justices, to help balance the opinions of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Neville was appointed to the Supreme Court after his predecessor, Charles E. Freeman retired as the first Black man on the Illinois Supreme Court.
He was sworn into office on June 15, 2018 and his term will be effective until December 7, 2020. Neville is only the second Black justice in the Illinois Supreme Court’s 200-year history. He is also the only Black candidate with experience on the state’s highest court.
A Chicago resident, Neville graduated from Forrestville Grammar School and DuSable High School. He graduated from Culver Stockton College in Missouri and received his law degree from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
Neville’s judicial experience spans 20 years, but his legal career goes back to 1977, when he was an attorney with Howard, Mann & Slaughter, a respected law firm that also employed prominent Civil Rights leader and Judge Archibald J. Carey Jr., who was also a Chicago alderman.
In 1999, Neville was appointed to the Circuit Court of Cook County. He held that position until 2004. On June 11, 2004, Neville was appointed to the Appellate Court and remained there after he won election in 2012. Neville served as Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Illinois Appellate Court, First District.
During an illustrious career, Neville has received numerous awards. He received the Chicago Bar Association’s prestigious Vanguard Award in 1999. The Illinois State Bar Association awarded him its Presidential Award.
Neville in 2007, received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Washington University School of Law. In 2016, Neville was selected as one of the Most Distinguished Men of Illinois, by Continuing Academic Training Children and Youth Services.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx presented him the C.F. Stradford Award in recognition of his commitment to social justice in 2017.
An active member of many bar associations, Neville is a life member of the National Bar Association (CCBA) and the Illinois State Bar Association. In 1997, Neville became president of the CCBA.
Neville is the co-founder of the Alliance of Bar Associations, a group that promotes diversity, equality and fairness in judicial evaluations.