By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Republican legislative leaders in Illinois filed a lawsuit Wednesday, July 20, attempting to prevent the recently-passed redistricting map from taking effect.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, Republican Assembly Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, and several black and Hispanic residents.
The lawsuit focuses on blacks and Hispanics not being given adequate input into how the new map was crafted, making the new map askew of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Every 10 years, the majority party in the General Assembly redraws the state’s political lines to reflect population changes outlined by the U.S. census.
“We are optimistic that the court will agree with us and will help give our residents a fair map that accurately reflects our population, especially our growing Latino population,” Cross said.
One such district the lawsuit points to is the newly-created House District 23, on the south side of Chicago. The new district has a Hispanic voting age population of 46.3 percent, but the demographics of the surrounding area are such that a majority Hispanic voting age population district could have been created. In other words, mapmakers short-changed Hispanic voters by making them a voting minority in the district.
Additionally, the lawsuit states that the new map violates the Illinois Constitution, because the map wasn’t made available to the Legislature or public for a proper review, and 34 of the new districts aren’t compact enough.
Democrats at the statehouse posted proposed maps online, and made them available for a little more than a week. But Democratic legislative leaders, who controlled the redistricting process, then made some last-minute changes and voted on a final map that was made public for only a few hours.
The lawsuit also singles out the downstate 96th District, which runs from the east side of Springfield to parts of Decatur.
“Certain of the [sic] districts in the Redistricting Plan including, but not limited to, Representative District 96, are of a shape so bizarre on their face that the shape can only rationally be understood to be an effort to separate voters into different districts on the basis of race,” the lawsuit states. “No sufficient or neutral justification can exist for the bizarre shape of Representative District 96.”
Kent Redfield, a longtime statehouse observer and professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said all of the allegations are serious, but the GOP most likely has an alternative motive.
“It’s not that the issues are frivolous, because they certainly aren’t, but the motivation is primarily to get the map overturned and get a more favorable political outcome,” Redfield said.
This year was the first time since the adoption of the current state constitution in 1970 where one party — in this case, the Democrats — controlled the Legislature and the governor’s office and, therefore, the whole redistricting process. That control allowed Democrats to create a map that puts them at a huge advantage over the GOP.
Redfield said no map has been thrown out simply because it was politically advantageous to one party.
“The maps in Illinois are always very partisan. So the party that loses out in redistricting, they’re trying to find some leverage, some way of overturning the map and getting into the courts and getting a more favorable outcome,” he said.
Senate Democrats are reviewing the lawsuit, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) office is standing by the final map, said Rikeesah Phelon, spokesman of Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
Quinn spokesman Annie Thompson said: “The 2011 redistricting process represented the first time the people of Illinois were able to participate in the remap process, by taking part in more than 30 public hearings held throughout the state. This open and transparent process resulted in a map that represents our diverse state and protects the voting rights of minorities.”
The GOP has outlined several different scenarios if its succeeds in the lawsuit: The Legislature would have to redraw all or part of the map; an outside party could redraw the map; or a legislative redistricting commission outlined in the constitution could be tasked with redrawing the map.
When a decision on the lawsuit will come down has not been determined.