John Kness – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

John Kness has had a varied career, including as a musician and in law enforcement.  Now, Kness hopes to add “judge” to his resume.

Background

A native Illinoisan, John Fitzgerald Kness was born in Chicago in 1969.  Kness graduated from Northwestern in 1991 and then spent seven years as a musician and two years as a Patrol Officer in Oak Park, Illinois, before matriculating at Northwestern Law.[1]

After graduating, Kness rapidly switched jobs, spending a year with the Chicago office of Jenner & Block, a year clerking for Judge William Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, a year at Winston & Strawn, and then a year at Tabet DiVito & Rothstein in Chicago.[2] 

In 2007, Kness returned to Winston & Strawn, working as an Associate for two years before becoming a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Illinois.[3]  In 2016, he left that role when he was hired (by a narrow 4-3 margin) to be the first in-house attorney at the College of DuPage.[4]  He currently holds that position.

History of the Seat

Kness has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on February 17, 2018, when Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan moved to senior status.  

In early 2018, Kness was contacted by the White House to gauge his interest in a federal judgeship.[5]  He subsequently interviewed with the White House and was tentatively selected as a nominee in June 2018.  In August 2018, he applied with a screening committee set up by Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats.  Kness was nominated with the agreement of the senators in June 2019.

Legal Career

Kness has spent his legal career approximately evenly divided between private practice and criminal prosecution.  In the former, Kness primarily worked in general litigation, while in the latter, Kness worked exclusively on criminal prosecutions.  Over the course of his legal career, Kness handled seven jury and one bench trials, all criminal.[6]

Notably, Kness prosecuted Hasan and Jonas Edmonds, cousins who sought to join ISIL in Syria and commit acts of terrorism.[7]  He was able to secure long sentences against both defendants.[8]  In other matters, Kness also prosecuted eight defendants who had engaged in the trading, production, and/or distribution of child pornography.[9]

Political Activity

Kness has been a longtime member of both the Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association, suggesting a conservative ideology.[10]  His only contribution of record is a $1000 donation to Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign in 2008.[11]

Overall Assessment

Overall, Kness’ background reveals little that should trouble his confirmation.  Given the support offered by Durbin and Duckworth, Kness will likely be confirmed without too much hassle.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., John F. Kness: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Robert Sanchez, COD Votes to Hire In-House Attorney, Chicago Daily Herald, Sept. 16, 2016.

[5] See Kness, supra n. 1 at 23-24.

[6] See id. at 13.

[7] See U.S. Fed. News, 2 Illinois Cousins Sentenced to Decades-Long Prison Terms For Conspiring to Provide Material Support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization – ISIL, Sept. 20, 2016. 

[8] See id.

[9] See States News Service, Eight Self-Identified “Boy Lovers” Sentenced to Federal Prison For Sexual Exploitation Crimes After FBI Investigation, Oct. 15, 2012.

[10] See Kness, supra n.1 at 5.

1 Comment

  1. Here are a few other things re Kness that might be worth mentioning: (1) One of his few published writings, which appeared in an April 2008 issue of the Los Angeles Times, is a defense of “loyalty oaths.” (2) While with Winston and Strawn, he was one of a group of attorneys who helped to prepare and file with the U.S. Supreme Court an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in Anderson v. Town of Durham, an appeal from a Supreme Judicial Court of Maine decision upholding state law which excluded religious schools from participation in a tuition reimbursement program. For a copy of the brief, see 2006 WL 2519580. (3) Besides the contribution to Giuliani, in 2003 Kness made two donations totaling $275 to Republican Jack Ryan’s Senatorial campaign.

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