You have probably heard by now that today Illinois is holding its primary election, and, guess what? You can do same day voter registration, if you’re not already registered! Though you most likely decided who you want (or definitely don’t want) for ‘big’ races like U.S. president and Cook County State’s Attorney—the latter of which another Gozamos contributor addressed in a recent article—there are almost two dozen other important positions listed on our ballots. The people we elect locally, arguably, have more power to affect our day-to-day lives, but many of us are less-than-informed about some of these candidates, such as those running for judicial positions. One nice thing about trying to select which judicial candidates to vote for is that there is much more accountability and objective information out there. Bar associations do extensive investigations and provide ratings and detailed reports for each of judicial candidate, which can be very helpful to voters. The Chicago Council of Lawyers provides a sample ballot that summarizes all of their ratings (hint: you can bring this and other resources with you to the poll!).
Rosa Silva is one of six candidates running for a 7th SubCircuit–Rivkin-Carothers judicial seat in Cook County, and one of only two candidates that was rated as ‘qualified’ or ‘recommended’ by all twelve bar associations in Illinois. The 7th subcircuit of Cook County includes sections west of the Loop, northwest side and west suburban Cook County. (See the Voting Resources at the end of this article for information on finding your subcircuit.) Silva’s slogan is “Save the Best, for Last,” as she is the at the last name on the that section of the ballot, #247.
After putting her two year-old to bed after a long day of working and campaigning, Rosa Silva was kind enough to take the time out to talk with me about her work and why she is running to be a judge. “Overall, I want to make sure people have equal access to justice, so that everyone feels that they are treated with respect and dignity when they come to court,” Silva said. “I’m not going to say that [being a judge] is a great power, but it’s a great responsibility because people’s lives can basically depend on a [judge‘s decision].” Silva has been practicing as a public defender for over 14 years, and her experiences in that very demanding work inspired her to run for a judicial position. She witnessed first-hand over countless cases the capacity of the judges to affect change on a larger level, but also in a way that also affects individual people’s lives.
Throughout her years of defending people who couldn’t afford a lawyer, Silva also saw a need for diversity in the legal system. “I’m very committed to social justice issues and diversity, and [believe] the bench should be a diverse group of people; I think I have the qualifications and dedication to be part of that group,” she said. In addition to an ethnic, racial and gender diversity, Silva also refers to a legal one. The vast majority of judges come from a prosecution background, so Silva’s background in defense litigation has given her a viewpoint that is much more familiar with the experiences of everyday people trying to navigate the complex and daunting legal system, going up against attorneys and judges whose background in prosecution may make them less-than-inclined towards alternative sentencing over prison sentences.
Though she didn’t say it directly, throughout the course of our conversation, it seemed that Silva’s sense of responsibility as a public defense lawyer and prospective judge included not defaulting to prison as a catchall solution to crime. She seems to understand from her experience that there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to why people commit or are charged committing crimes. All in all, she believes that the law should aim to be a force of justice over mere punishment, and should apply equally to all people. “Some people who are charged with crimes, they are in a bad position. I’m not saying everyone is innocent, but everyone deserves a fair trial, and I wanted to protect people’s rights because once someone’s rights are taken away, anyone’s rights can be taken away—yours or mine or our families […] Maybe people are actually guilty, but the Constitution still affords them certain rights, and the police and the prosecution still have to follow those rules.”
Silva’s desire to understand the people’s real experiences and be a force of positive changes is a common thread in her work from before she even became a lawyer. After graduating with a degree in sociology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Silva went to University of Illinois at Chicago to take more classes, and was encouraged by a professor to go to grad school for sociology. “That’s when I realized that I did want to make some kind of change, but I didn’t think being a sociologist would actually help me make those changes or help people in the manner that I wanted to; it’s not as hands-on. I decided that I wanted to go to law school […] and I chose [Chicago-Kent College of Law]. It was one of the only schools at the time that had a criminal defense clinic […] and I really liked it!”
In addition to her heavy caseload as a public defender, Silva does a lot of other work, such participating in many organizations that support youth, women, Latinos in the legal community. In addition to work with the Latino Lawyers Committee and bar associations, Silva is the recording secretary for the Women’s Bar Foundation, an organization that was created to promote women in law. They do annual fundraisers in order to give our eight scholarships of $8-10,000 to give to eight women who they believe are making and will make a great contribution to law. Regarding her work and sense of responsibility, Silva said, “I think my motto is ‘Rise Up and Reach Back,’ so once you reach something, you need to reach back and help everyone else […] I guess I think it’s my responsibility, something I need to do.”
Though I’m too cynical to believe that having more smart, compassionate people in the legal system could ever fully correct all of the many detriments of the prison-industrial complex, it is still obvious that people can do great work to reduce harm and affect real, positive changes in people’s lives and in communities from within that system—especially when they are able to provide crucial diverse perspectives based in hands-on experience. If elected, Rosa Silva wouldn’t be able to choose if she presides over criminal or civil cases, but it seems fair to say that her years of work as a public defender have given her an in depth look at the legal system, who it works for, and in what ways should be more fair, accessible and accountable to everyday people, regardless of background or whether they have thousands of dollars for a lawyer. Though Silva’s other official campaign slogan, “Dedicated to Fairness and Justice,” is in fact just a slogan, in this case there does seem to be a lot of truth behind the words.
Author’s note: As a collective and a grassroots organization, Gozamos does not formally endorse any political candidate. We are a space for our contributors and readers to provide their perspectives and engage in discussion—political, cultural or otherwise—and generally encourage our readers who can vote to read up on candidates and exercise that privilege. Yet, we recognize that voting in elections is limited and is just one of many ways to exercise one’s democratic rights and enact positive change in our communities.
Find your voter information, by last name and address
Chicago Board of Elections – key dates & fast facts
Chicago Reader cheatsheet for voting for judges
Ballot Ready – “Voter information for every candidate”
Windy City Media Group ratings on all candidates