Editor’s Note: The Chicago Defender will profile each of the African American judges running for the Illinois Supreme Court seat in March 2020.
Justice P. Scott Neville’s conference room is filled with awards and photos, a scale of justice and a large gavel affixed to the wall, as well as pictures from his swearing in and a black and white photo of his sixth-grade class from Forestville Elementary School.
Neville is the 117th Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the second African American Justice. The number “7” is featured on license plates in the room, as he is the seventh of the justices.
“I had been practicing law for 25 years. I did not feel the scales of justice were always balanced. By balanced, I mean I didn’t always think the court’s decisions were always based on the facts and the law,” he said. “And, I thought it would be helpful for me to become a judge to return the courts to my vision of what I thought it should be and that’s equal justice for all,” he added.
In 1999, Neville was appointed to the Circuit Court by the Illinois Supreme Court and served for three-and-a-half years. He was elevated to the Appellate Court in 2004, where he served for 14 years. And, in 2018, he was appointed the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by Justice Charles Freeman’s retirement. Neville credits Justice Freeman with recommending his appointments to the Circuit and Appellate Courts.
In the last year, Neville said he is most proud of a number of things.
“One of my primary interests has always been in making sure equal justice is provided to all of Illinois citizens, I think that can best be done by having a diverse judiciary,” he said.
Neville is the Supreme Court Liaison to the civil instruction committee which promulgates instruction to be given to jurors during the trial. One of those instructions is the Implicit Bias Instruction, which is now mandatory.
“As a member of the court I have brought a different judicial philosophy. My philosophy is based on growing up. I was born in Bronzeville, I was nurtured in Bronzeville, I was educated in Bronzeville, I attended church in Bronzeville,” he said. “As a result of this process, it has culminated in the development of my judicial philosophy, which is equal justice for all.”
Neville added, “By observing injustice it forces me to recognize the importance of the Equal Justice Provision in the Constitution.“ He said he has a special judicial philosophy which manifested itself in the Jason Van Dyke Case.
The Jason Van Dyke case is significant because of People vs. Lee, which had facts that were similar to facts of the Van Dyke case. Van Dyke was convicted of aggravated battery with a firearm and second-degree murder. In People v. Lee, the Supreme Court decided the aggravated battery with a firearm was a more serious offense and vacated the second-degree murder offense.
The Circuit Court Judge did not follow Lee, he sentenced Van Dyke on the second-degree murder charge and vacated the aggravated battery with a firearm charge.
“He was acting contrary to Lee, Lee was the law,” he said. “Only one person, the equal justice for all person, said we must follow our precedent Lee, I wrote a dissent.”
In the dissent, Neville wrote, “Petitioners specifically content that, under this court’s established precedent in Lee and Crespo, respondent was required to sentence Van Dyke on his 16 convictions for aggravated battery with a firearm.”
Recently, there was discussion about Neville and the Homestead Exemption he received on his childhood home. Neville talked about the Homestead Exemption and whether or not he was entitled to it.
In 1959, Neville’s family moved to 43rd and Vincennes. His parents were entitled to a Homestead Exemption. From 1962 to 1991, Neville’s mother got a Homestead Exemption. From 1959 to 1991, Neville said he resided in the home.
“A person who considers a residence their permanent residence is entitled to a Homestead Exemption…I paid the taxes,” he said. “I resided in the property until 2012, when my wife and I left the property to rehab it.”
Neville said he has paid for the years he was not in the house. “The Assessor sent a bill and I paid it,” he said. “Hopefully, they will not send another bill in my mother’s name.”
Neville said he would like for the home to serve as a landmark, since he is the second African American Illinois Supreme Court Justice.
Neville said there are things that distinguish him from the other candidates. “I would like for the voters to understand, five of the people who were running against me were on the Appellate Court in 2018, when I was selected,” he said. “The Supreme Court had reviewed all of our work, the Supreme Court selected me.”
Neville said all the candidates have been evaluated by the Chicago Bar Association. He was found highly qualified. And, he was endorsed by the Democratic Party.
“I’ve already written 11 opinions, a dissent in the Van Dyke case and two [other] dissents,” he said. “None of them [the other candidates] have worked on the Supreme Court.”
Neville said when he joined the court, two of the five Supreme Court Districts didn’t have an African American on the Appellate Court. Now, all five have an African American on the Court.
“I am very interested in diversity, I discuss diversity. I am not a newcomer to this diversity issue,” he said.
Neville said he has mentored judges, law students at the University of Chicago, Loyola University and Chicago Kent, as well as high school and grammar school students.
He has also given scholarships to the Cook County Bar Association Foundation and the Illinois Judicial Counsel Foundation.
“I have a vision for the future but I recognize that I am mortal, and that my mortality will catch up with me one day, so I am always looking for my successor,” he said.