Fight over Partisan Gerrymandering in Illinois Heads to State Supreme Court

Last week, a circuit court judge struck down the initiative to reform redistricting in Illinois. However, the state Supreme Court quickly decided to hear the appeal, which could provide new life for the effort.

The Independent Map Amendment seeks to change the way Illinois legislative districts are drawn. Independent Maps wants to transfer map-drawing from politicians to an independent panel of eleven members via ballot initiative.

Independent Maps has faced legal difficulties since filing its petition signatures in May. The lawsuit was brought by The People’s Map, a group without any disclosed funding and a legal team headed by a lawyer with connections to Illinois’ top Democrats. The People’s Map claims to represent minorities and says their rights are threatened in the proposed reform.

In her ruling, Judge Diane Larsen determined that the amendment violated Article 14, section 3 of the Illinois Constitution. The reform modifies the duties of the Auditor General, which are described in Article 4. In the Independent Maps plan, the Auditor General selects the review panel from which the final commission is chosen.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner called the ruling “a harsh reminder that the political system in Illinois is in need of major reforms.”

The chair of the People’s Map, John Hooker, praised the ruling. He said:

“A group of unelected mapmakers is accountable to no one for the decisions it makes, has no reason to protect minority voters and minority communities, and faces no consequences for failing to give those protections. Minority groups have spent decades fighting to ensure our voices are heard, and that hard work would be in jeopardy if this amendment were to become law.”

The ruling is an immediate victory for the People’s Map. However, Independent Maps Chair Dennis FitzSimons quickly filed appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court. The court granted the appeal within hours. FitzSimons is encouraged that the Court quickly decided to hear the case. He said:

“The Illinois Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on a citizen initiative since 1994 and has never ruled on these questions that apply to a redistricting amendment. We look forward to explaining why the lower court ruling needs to be overturned and why voters this fall should be able to make the changes needed to stop politicians from drawing their own legislative maps.”

FitzSimons hopes that the Supreme Court’s eagerness to hear the case is cause for optimism. He said the lower court “accepted our position in general that remap is a structural and procedural subject.” He believes the circuit court’s concession leaves open the possibility that redistricting can be dealt with by voters.

The state Supreme Court set deadlines for briefs for July 28 and August 4 and 9.