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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Court Shields Legislative ‘Horse Trading’ in Illinois

CHICAGO (CN) - Opponents of Illinois's Redistricting Act, including 10 Republican members of Congress, cannot subpoena recommendations state lawmakers considered when drawing the 2011 map in accordance with the 2010 Census results, a panel of federal judges ruled.

The U.S. Constitution requires state lawmakers to redraw congressional district boundaries after each decennial census. In June 2011, Illinois passed the Illinois Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011, eliminating one congressional seat and establishing boundaries for the remaining 18 congressional districts.

Shortly thereafter, the Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map, along with 10 Republican congresspersons and six registered voters, sued the Illinois Board of Elections and its individual board members. The plaintiffs alleged that the law violates the 14th and 15th Amendments by discriminating against Latino and Republican voters.

As part of an expedited discovery schedule, the plaintiffs served 30 subpoenas on various third-party government committees and employees, requesting documents concerning the planning and negotiation of the 2011 redistricting map.

When the third parties refused to comply with the discovery requests, claiming that they are protected from disclosure by legislative immunity, the plaintiffs moved to compel the enforcement of the subpoenas. The president of the Illinois Senate, the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, and the chairpersons of the Illinois House and Senate Redistricting Committees moved to quash.

Last week, a three-judge panel convened by the Northern District of Illinois partly granted the plaintiffs' motion to compel, but found that communications between lawmakers and their staff must remain confidential.

The judges ordered the defendants to provide "documents containing objective facts upon which lawmakers relied in drawing the 2011 map, documents available to members of the general assembly at the time the Redistricting Act was passed, and the identities of experts retained by non-parties to assist in drafting the 2011 map."

The plaintiffs had also sought documents containing direct communications between lawmakers and their staff, seeking to find motives and opinions of the individuals responsible for the 2011 map. The court denied this request, finding that "the individual motivations and objectives of those who drafted the 2011 map, although relevant, are not critical to the outcome of this case."

Additionally, the judges said that "the need to encourage frank and honest discussion among lawmakers favors non-disclosure."

"Full public disclosure would hinder the ability of party leaders to synthesize competing interests of constituents, special interest groups and lawmakers, and draw a map that has enough support to become law," the 23-page decision states. "This type of legislative horse trading is an important and undeniable part of the legislative process."

Quoting a Supreme Court opinion, the court noted that "when the issue is simply the interpretation of legislation, the court will look to statements by legislators for guidance as to the purpose of the legislation. It is entirely a different matter when we are asked to void a statute that is under well-settled criteria, constitutional on its face, on the basis of what fewer than a handful of congressmen said about it."

The judges made a distinction between objective facts, and the actual facts on which legislators relied, such as political considerations. "Objective facts, such as United States Census reports and election returns, are highly relevant to plaintiffs' claims," the judgment said. "The actual facts upon which lawmakers relied, however, are less relevant because they say little as to whether the over all effect of the 2011 Map is discriminatory."

"The proof, so they say, is in the pudding; and the pudding is the 2011 map," the court concluded.

The panel was composed of Judge John Tinder from the 7th Circuit, U.S. District Judges Robert Miller of the Northern District of Indiana, and U.S. District Joan Lefkow of Northern District of Illinois.

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