A three-judge federal panel has tossed out the legislative district maps passed by the Democrats who control the Illinois State Legislature and signed in law by Democratic Gov J.B. Pritzker because they violate the principle of “one person, one vote.”
The decision is a stunning rebuke to those who hoped to use the legislature’s map-making authority to plunge the GOP into permanent minority status in Illinois. The court found the maps, enacted through the signature of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker even before the final U.S. Census data was available, created districts that were too dissimilar in population to be allowed to stand.
The court did not, as the Illinois Republicans who sued to have the redistricting plan overturned hoped would be the case, order the creation of a bipartisan commission to redraw the lines, Capitol News Illinois reported Thursday. Instead, it mandated the use of a second set of maps approved by the governor later in the year as a “starting point” for a new effort a line drawing, one in which those who had challenged the process that produced the disputed lines could participate.
In its decision, the court rejected the idea legislative maps could be found to be unconstitutional just because the majority party drew the lines to protect its interests. “To be sure, political considerations are not unconstitutional and courts are reluctant to wade into, much less to reverse, partisan maps, including those that amount to political gerrymanders,” the judges wrote, citing a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court case. “And we are not so naive as to imagine that any party in power would decline to exercise levers available to it to maximize its opportunity to retain seats in the General Assembly.”
Politics in Illinois is a blood sport. The first plan the Democrats who control the legislature drew and Pritzker approved was intended to eliminate as many GOP-held seats as possible. It was a naked exercise in political power, an explicit attempt by one major political party to destroy the viability of the other. The court likely looked askance at Illinois Democrats’ use of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to do this rather than waiting on the final numbers, whose release was delayed until mid-August by the pandemic.
Waiting until they had the final numbers, the Democrats argued, would have conflicted with a requirement in the Illinois Constitution that maps be produced by June 30. While true, that complaint ignores how, if the deadline passes without maps having been approved, the constitution provides for the creation of a legislative committee formed for the specific purpose of producing new maps. And, because it is officially bipartisan, allowing the process to go to the commission level would boost the GOP’s opportunity to influence the outcome.
The lawsuit challenging the lines filed initially by the Republican leaders of the General Assembly urged the court to declare the maps unconstitutional and, Capitol News Illinois reported, “because no constitutional maps had been enacted by June 30, order the formation of the bipartisan commission required under the Illinois Constitution.”
A second lawsuit filed by a group of Hispanic voters in the Chicago area represented the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund asked the court to declare the maps unconstitutional and for the court itself to order a remedy.
“The June maps are unconstitutionally malapportioned, and the September maps are illegal in a different way which is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment in terms of the racial gerrymander,” MALDEF staff attorney Ernest Herrera said the court made clear the Democrats’ maps are illegal.
Herrera’s concerns suggest the fight against the maps will continue. State GOP leaders nonetheless called the decision a “victory. Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a joint statement issued after the decision that “The court’s ruling validates all the concerns that were raised during the Democrats’ unconstitutional attempt to gerrymander Illinois.”
The three-member panel’s decision, which may yet be appealed, applies only to the plan for redistricting the Illinois General Assembly. It does not touch on the constitutionality and legality of the proposed congressional map that, despite Illinois losing one congressional seat due to reapportionment, would boost the Democratic delegation to 15 seats from 13 while the number of Republican seats would be reduced from 5 to 2.