Judge rules against Independent Map Amendment, but supporters vow to keep fighting
Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Larsen has ruled against the Independent Map Amendment, but organizers of the initiative are taking their fight to the state Supreme Court.
Larsen's ruling supports the opponents' contention that the amendment is unconstitutional according to the guidelines in the Illinois Constitution.
The previous attempt to wrest control of the redistricting process from the Illinois legislature, the 2014 Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment, was successfully challenged by Chicago lawyer Mike Kasper, who also won in court with this latest effort. The 2014 amendment also faced difficulties with the Illinois State Board of Elections, which determined that less than half of the 532,000 signatures submitted were valid after sampling 5 percent of the signatures.
Supporters of the 2016 Independent Map Amendment submitted more than 550,000 signatures on May 6. The amendment would put an 11-member commission in charge of redrawing election district lines. The commission would consist of seven registered voters and four members selected by the Illinois General Assembly leaders.
The People's Map Ballot Initiative Committee campaigned against the amendment, claiming that it was meant to help Republicans win seats in the legislature and reduce representation of minorities. The opposition was led by Chicago Housing Authority Chairman John Hooker. While the group filed with the Illinois Board of Elections as a political group, it has allegedly failed to file campaign disclosures reporting donations.
Kasper, who is also the Democratic Party of Illinois' general counsel, filed the legal challenge in Cook County on May 11. The Illinois Republican Party reacted strongly to the lawsuit after the state elections board certified the signatures on June 13.
"Now that the State Board of Elections has approved the Independent Map Amendment, the only thing standing in the way of letting the people vote for fair legislative maps is (Illinois House Speaker) Mike Madigan," Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said. "Many Democrats claim to support redistricting reform, but all have remained silent on Mike Madigan’s lawsuit to get the Independent Map Amendment thrown off the ballot. Democrats need to listen to the will of the people and denounce Madigan’s lawsuit and refuse financial support from Madigan’s Democratic Party until this shameful lawsuit is dropped. Otherwise, this is a clear signal that Democrats would prefer maintaining power to doing what is right for the people of Illinois.”
While disappointed by the Circuit Court's ruling, Independent Map Amendment Chairman Dennis FitzSimons assured amendment supporters that the battle is not yet won by the opposition. During the campaign, supporters pointed to California's independent redistricting amendment as an example of persistence. In California, the petitions failed four times before voters passed their own redistricting amendment in 2008. The Illinois Board of Elections must certify the November ballot by Aug. 26.
“We are disappointed that Judge Larsen has ruled against the Independent Map Amendment and the 564,000 Illinois residents who signed a petition to change a broken system and eliminate the inherent conflict of interest where politicians draw their own legislative districts," FitzSimons said. "We expected from the beginning of this effort that the issue would ultimately be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court. We will file for an expedited appeal to the state’s highest court."