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.
The effort to redraw congressional and state legislative district lines in Michigan may be upended after two alleged “independents’ serving on the 13-member of the commission overseeing the remap were exposed as Democrats.
Anthony Eid and Rebecca Szetela, both claimed to be political independents when seeking slots on the Michigan Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission but, according to a Washington Free Beacon review of their social media and campaign contribution, the two appear to be partisan Democrats.Normally, such things would be considered trivial, but an initiative approved in 2018 by Michigan voters marketed as providing a way to take the politics out of the redistricting process specifically created seats on the MICRC for four Democrats and four Republicans while setting aside five spots to be filled by non-aligned voters.
Eid’s social media includes posts supportive of Democrats including one that asserts he is “proud to live in a state that voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary” but not Republicans. Szetela has a history of contributing to Democratic candidates and reportedly addressed the Muskegon County, Mich., Progressive Democratic Women’s Caucus.
These activities are helping cast suspicion on the work of the MICRC which the voters who approved it intended to be an independent and balanced commission whose recommendations must have the support of at least seven of its members — including two Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents – before a new map can go into effect. According to The Center Square, a news website covering state politics, more than 9,300 Michigan voters applied to serve on the committee.
After the partisan history of Eid and Szetela became known, Tori Sachs, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, quickly called on both to resign. “The staggering dishonesty of these commissioners is now tainting the hard, important work of the other 11 members,” she said in a statement. “It’s time they resign before they fully shatter voters’ trust in this critical process as well.
”But trust in the process may already be on the verge of breaking. The group that spearheaded the petition drive to get the initiative creating the MICRC on the 2018 ballot, Voters Not Politicians, was, The Center Square reported, “funded mostly by liberal nonprofit organizations.
”Nearly two-thirds of the money donated to VNP came from two organizations: the Texas-based Action Now Initiative gave $5.1 million and The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington-based social welfare organization, contributed $6 million, The Center Square said, citing figures obtained from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Other donors identified by the news site included the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers ($500,000); the Open Society Policy Center ($100,000); and the National Redistricting Action Fund ($250,000), an affiliate of the Democratic Party chaired by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder.
The stakes are high. Michigan lost a seat in the latest congressional reapportionment, conducted after the 2020 Census was complete. With the U.S. House of Representatives almost evenly split, control of Congress could again come down to a handful of seats in the 2022 elections, making every seat count.The ability to place a thumb on the redistricting scale in a state where the total number of seats will change could have a dramatic effect on the partisan balance of a state delegation. In Illinois, which also lost a seat in reapportionment, most of the population loss has been in the heavily Democratic Chicago area but the proposed remap currently under discussion would see at least one and perhaps more seats coming out of the Republican column thanks to a process known as gerrymandering.
The initiative that created the MICRC was supposed to prevent the districts in Michigan from being gerrymandered. The alleged presence of partisan Democrats on the commission masquerading as independents violates the spirit of what the voters appeared to want to do and deserves further investigation.