Judge blocks Illinois redistricting plan from ballot

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Thursday, July 21, 2016
Judge blocks redistricting plan from ballot
The Independent Map Amendment proposed that a commission take over how legislative boundaries are drawn in the state.

CHICAGO -- A voter referendum aimed at changing the way Illinois draws its political boundaries is unconstitutional for the November ballot, a judge determined Wednesday.

For more information visit http://www.elections.il.gov and http://thecitizengroup.com/.

The ruling by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen marked the second time that an attempt to change how Illinois redistricts has been blocked in the courts. An attorney who has represented the state's Democrats, including House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, filed a lawsuit claiming it wasn't constitutional.

The plan by a group called the Independent Map Amendment proposed an 11-member commission to take over how legislative boundaries are drawn in the state, instead of leaving it to party leaders. Commission members would be chosen through a complex process involving the state's auditor general and potentially members of the Illinois Supreme Court. Backers of the measure, who collected nearly 560,000 signatures across the state, said they learned from a failed 2014 effort to overhaul redistricting.

The group vowed to file an expedited appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

"A great deal of care went into crafting an amendment that follows constitutional guidelines while also creating a system that is independent, fair, transparent, and protects the ability of minority communities to elect candidates of their choosing," Independent Maps chairman Dennis FitzSimons said in a statement. "Redistricting reform was specifically addressed by the framers of our constitution as a 'critical' area for citizen petition initiatives. We believe that the Illinois Supreme Court will side with Illinois voters and not deny citizens the opportunity to vote on this amendment."

The lawsuit claimed that the measure didn't meet the narrow scope that changes to the state Legislature be both "structural and procedural." He filed the lawsuit on behalf of minority business and community groups who call themselves the People's Map and say the current mapping process protects minority representation. Those arguments were never mentioned in court. A People's Map spokesman didn't immediately have comment on Wednesday.

In court, Independent Maps' lawyers countered by saying since legislative districts are the "building blocks of the General Assembly," redistricting is by its nature structural and procedural.

The Illinois State Board of Elections had already determined that the group had enough valid signatures for the ballot.

Gov. Bruce Rauner said that independent redistricting is badly needed in Illinois, calling the current system broken. However, he said voters should decide.

"Legislators in power could have placed the Independent Maps referendum directly on the ballot and avoided this court decision. Instead, they chose to play politics in an effort to protect their own power," Rauner said in a statement. "Independent Maps has strong support from both Democrats and Republicans. It has strong support from non-partisan good government groups. So this ruling is a definitely a setback for the people of Illinois."

The deadline for getting the referendum on the November ballot is Aug. 26, FitzSimons said. He expects the state Supreme Court will hear and make a final ruling in the case before then.

"We're trying to get this out of the backrooms into the public where the public can participate in the process," FitzSimmons said.

FitzSimons, who called himself an independent, said the reform effort is not aimed at specific elected officials or political parties. However, some Republicans blame Madigan, state House speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chairman, for the lawsuit that led to ruling.

Madigan, who is not listed among the plaintiffs, was unavailable for comment.

Other prominent Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also refused to comment on the case: "I'm focused on now the issues we have in front of us as (they) relate to the city of Chicago," he said.

WLS-TV contributed to this report.