Supreme Court Breathes New Life into Efforts to End Partisan Gerrymandering in Illinois

Created: 20 July, 2015
Updated: 16 October, 2022
3 min read

The movement to reform Illinois redistricting has faced numerous hurdles in recent years, but may be getting new life. One of those movements came in 2014 when the amendment of a group called Yes for Independent Maps was struck down as unconstitutional by a circuit court judge and by the Illinois State Board of Elections for lack of admissible signatures.

Independent Maps, now called the Independent Map Amendment, was organized in late April to engineer a new campaign for reforming the redistricting process in Illinois. The group's plan calls for an "11-member non-partisan commission whose decisions and process would be open to the public and to public comment." Rather than a ballot initiative that goes through the legislature, the "plan is to have citizens petition for it."

The new campaign also seeks to address one of the more obvious concerns with the way districts are currently drawn. One of the members of the project said at its inception, "I think we can all agree that there is an inherent conflict of interest when legislators draw the districts that they will run in."

However, there will likely be push-back from those benefitting from the current system. In a state as lop-sided in favor of the Democrats as Illinois, movements to alter the status quo tend to be labeled pro-Republican schemes.

Even if such allegations were true, it is easy to see why the Republican Party in Illinois would want to see reforms. After the 2010 U.S.. Census and the election of sufficient numbers of Democrats to the governorship and General Assembly, the GOP was effectively barred from providing input on the new map.

The result of the new map was the consolidation of districts favorable to Republicans. In 2012, when the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives suffered a net loss of eight seats, five were attributed to Illinois.

In June, the Independent Map Amendment hired Cynthia Canary, a one-time nonprofit collaborator with former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, as executive director. Canary said the group will be looking to correct past mistakes redistricting movements have made:

"We've been working closely with legal experts this time, and studying that ruling very closely, as well as some things that the Illinois Supreme Court has done over the years, and have really just tightened this initiative up, and are very confident that it will be a very strong case when it, probably inevitably, is bought to the court." - Cynthia Canary, Independent Map Amendment

The judge who ruled against the 2014 redistricting effort said the previous amendment was unconstitutional, in part, because the independent commission would have barred any of its members from running for office while their map was in use. Regardless of how the current initiative is worded, legal battles are likely.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Illinois redistricting reform supporters was a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. In late June, the high court ruled 5-4 in support of Arizona's independent redistricting commission and the right of the people to choose their own political futures. While anything can happen, the Arizona precedent may be the opening supporters of redistricting reform were waiting for to change the political map in Illinois.

Image: Independent Map Amendment

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