Illinois legislative district maps controversial topic

A three-judge panel in Chicago’s federal court ruled on Tuesday that Gov. JB Pritzker’s legislative redistribution plan was enacted in June – before official 2020 U.S. Census figures were available – was unconstitutional because population gaps between districts violated the “one person, one vote” principle.

But the court did not order, as Republican officials had hoped, that a bipartisan redistribution commission be formed to redraw the cards. Instead, he declared the second set of maps that Pritzker signed in September, following an extraordinary legislative session, as a “starting point” for the development of a new map, and he invited the plaintiffs in two cases challenging the redistribution process to come up with their own solutions. .

“The challenges of redistributing maps are routine. They happen every 10 years, like clockwork, during each census cycle, ”the court wrote. “As this case and countless before it illustrate, parties need time to compile a case; the courts need time to render a decision; and occasionally some aspect of a division plan must be revised to comply with the law. Sometimes the revisions are minor.

The notice set the stage for the next phase of the two lawsuits that were filed in June, arguing that legislative maps Democrats submitted to the General Assembly in the spring violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

These maps were based on population estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, as official 2020 census data had been delayed, in large part due to the pandemic.

Democrats have argued they need to move forward because the Illinois Constitution does not give the General Assembly until June 30 of the year following a decennial census to approve a redistribution plan. Official census figures were not available until mid-August.

After June 30, the state’s constitution requires the formation of a bipartisan legislative commission to draw new maps, a process in which each side would have a 50-50 chance to control the outcome.

Trial of Republican leaders

One of the lawsuits was filed by Republican General Assembly leaders Senator Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods and Representative Jim Durkin of Western Springs. They were later joined by the GOP House and Senate caucuses and the Illinois Republican Party.

They urged the court to declare the maps unconstitutional and, because no constitutional map had been passed as of June 30, to order the formation of the bipartisan commission required by the Illinois Constitution.

The second lawsuit was filed by a group of Hispanic Chicago-area voters who were represented by attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF. They had asked the court to declare the cards unconstitutional and the court itself to order redress.

But the defendants in the case – which included Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Speaker of the Senate Don Harmon, the Illinois State Council of Elections and its individual members – argued, because as lawmakers had returned this summer to pass a second set of cards, any challenge to the first set of cards must be viewed as “questionable.”

The court rejected that argument, however, noting that even though lawmakers had passed a second set of cards, they never specifically repealed the first set, which meant that nothing was preventing the Democratic majority from returning at a later date. and re-adopt them.

“Implausible” request

But he also rejected the Republicans’ demand to order the formation of a bipartisan commission, calling it “implausible” given the limited time remaining before the 2022 primaries.

“The commission does not come into play when canceling a plan adopted by the legislature, nor does the General Assembly take over if a plan adopted by the commission does not satisfy the courts,” wrote the judges. “Instead, the commission amounts to an alternative process to produce an ‘effective’ map as a first step if the political branches are unable to do so by the deadline.”

The judges also rejected the idea that legislative maps could be considered unconstitutional simply because they were drawn to protect the majority party.

“Certainly political considerations are not unconstitutional and courts are reluctant to venture into, let alone reverse, partisan cards, including those akin to political gerrymanders,” the judges wrote, citing an US Supreme Court case in 2019. “And we are not naive enough to imagine that a ruling party would refuse to exercise the levers at its disposal to maximize its chances of retaining seats in the General Assembly . “

Severe criticism

But the court also harshly criticized the process used to pass the second round of cards, including the fact that the public only had a few hours to review these cards before they were voted on in the House and Senate.

“Given all of the circumstances – both agreed upon and contested – we will therefore proceed with the approval of a map of the legislative districts of Illinois for the next decade using the September redistribution plan as a point of reference. departure, but also by carefully considering the legal challenges. raised in the second amended complaints in force, ”the court wrote.

Republicans and MALDEF plaintiffs have argued that the second set of cards is also unconstitutional, in part because it reduces the number of Latin American majority districts in the House and Senate, even though the Latin American population increased significantly between 2010 and 2020.

Joint statement

McConchie and Durkin released a joint statement on Tuesday calling the decision a victory.

“During this process, the Republican caucuses have consistently demanded transparency and fairness in mapping, which was rejected by Democrats and Governor Pritzker,” they said. “The court ruling validates all of the concerns that were raised during the Democrats’ unconstitutional attempt to gerrymander Illinois.”

The court gave plaintiffs until Nov. 8 to submit their proposed revisions to the second set of maps, along with a statement explaining how those revisions would remedy any constitutional flaws. The defendants then have until November 18 to respond to these proposed revisions.

The next status hearing has been set for Friday, November 5.

Capitol News Illinois is a non-profit, non-partisan news service covering state government and distributed to over 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.


What is Capitol News Illinois and why does the BND publish its articles?

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service that covers the Illinois State Government to members of the Illinois Press Association. The Belleville News-Democrat is a member of the IPA. The BND publishes articles from Capital News Illinois and The Associated Press to complement our staff’s state affairs coverage, which focuses on southern Illinois lawmakers and regional issues.

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