Illinois Supreme Court Kills Redistricting Reform

     CHICAGO (CN) — A divided Illinois Supreme Court invalidated a proposed ballot initiative intended to reduce partisanship in legislative redistricting, denying voters the chance to vote on the amendment in November.
     The Aug. 25 ruling was a win for Illinois Democrats, led by state House Speaker Michael Madigan, who opposed the referendum, and a defeat for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who supported the proposal.
     “Today’s court decision to deny Illinoisans the right to vote on a redistricting referendum does nothing to stem the outflow or change people’s views of how the system is rigged and corrupt,” Rauner said in a statement.
     More than 563,000 voters signed a petition to put the Independent Maps amendment on the ballot. It was also backed by a well-funded coalition of business and public interest groups.
     The amendment proposed to create an 11-member board, including representatives for four legislative leaders, that would have the authority to draw new boundaries for Illinois’ House and Senate seats after each federal census.
     Currently, lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled houses of the Illinois legislature have unfettered control over redistricting plans.
     Two states in the U.S., California and Arizona, have both ended partisan redistricting by turning the duty over to an impartial commission.
     Judge Thomas Kilbride said the court’s 4-3 decision was “not intended to reflect in any way on the viability of other possible redistricting reform initiatives,” but based “solely on the constitutional infirmity of the particular ballot initiative before this court.”
     The Illinois Constitution restricts the scope of permissible ballot initiatives to “to structural and procedural subjects” related to the legislative branch of government.
     The court’s majority said the Independent Maps amendment exceeded those restrictions because it proposed adding to the existing duties of the auditor general as well as changing the courts’ jurisdiction.
     The court’s Republican-appointed judges dissented, vocally.
     “The Illinois constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it,” Justice Robert Thomas wrote.
     He described the majority’s decision as “a muzzle that has been placed on the people of this state,” and “no less than the death knell of article XIV, section 3’s promise of direct democracy as a check on legislative self-interest.”
     Judge Lloyd Karmeier’s more tempered dissent said that no redistricting initiative could be able to pass the narrow limits set forth by the majority’s decision. “The promise my colleagues offer is therefore an empty one,” he wrote.
     The chair of Independent Maps, Dennis FitzSimmons, said in a statement, “The Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling is extremely disappointing to all of us — to our bi-partisan coalition, to the more than 563,000 Illinois voters who signed petitions to put this important amendment on the ballot, and to the many, many more Illinoisans eager for an opportunity to make the Illinois General Assembly more responsive to all of Illinois.”
     He said their attorneys were considering asking the court to reconsider the matter.

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