A Cook County judge on Wednesday tossed from the ballot a proposed state constitutional amendment aimed at removing much of the politics from legislative redistricting.
Judge Diane Larsen found that the referendum question put forth by the Independent Maps group was written in a way that violates the Illinois Constitution. The ruling means that, as of now, the question won’t appear before voters Nov. 8.
The ruling hands an initial victory to forces with ties to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has maintained his hold on power at the Capitol for more than three decades in part because he’s had the power to draw the boundaries of legislative districts. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, Madigan’s chief nemesis, supports the ballot question.
The issue isn’t over, however, as both sides in the case expect it will wind up before the Illinois Supreme Court because the ruling hinged on whether the proposal fits the small window for petition-driven initiatives changing the state’s primary governing document.
Backers of the map proposal gathered enough signatures to qualify for a spot on the fall ballot. The amendment would create a complex, multistep process in which an 11-member board, including representatives of the four legislative leaders, would be charged with drawing new boundaries for Illinois’ 118 House and 59 Senate seats after the once-a-decade federal census.
Seven votes would be needed for approval of a new map, including at least two members from each political party and three independents.
Currently, it’s up to the legislature to redraw district boundaries, creating a winner-take-all mapmaking process for either Democrats, as is currently the case, or Republicans in previous decades.
The Illinois Constitution only allows petition-driven amendments that affect “structural” and “procedural” changes to the legislature.
Supporters argued altering the mapmaking process fit the very definition of structural and procedural change. But opponents questioned the validity of the proposal since it would assign new duties to the state auditor general and Supreme Court — issues outside the scope of the legislative article of the constitution. The auditor general and Supreme Court’s duties are assigned in separate articles of the governing document.
Larsen agreed with the opponents’ argument.
The Independent Map group has raised more than $4 million, including $500,000 each from Allstate Insurance and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a charitable trust established after the death of the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune that promotes civic engagement.
Other donors include $225,000 from wealthy businessman Lester Crown and $100,000 each from Citadel hedge fund founder Ken Griffin and Sam Zell, the businessman who acquired Tribune Co. only to have the media firm file for bankruptcy not long afterward.
The People’s Map, a group of prominent racial and ethnic businessmen, are leading the legal challenge to the map with Michael Kasper serving as their lead lawyer. Kasper is legal counsel for the state Democratic Party and a longtime ally of its chairman, Speaker Madigan.
Madigan aides have said the speaker is not involved in the lawsuit. State Board of Elections records show the People’s Map as having no donations or expenditures since 2015.
The only petition-driven initiative to make the ballot, and ultimately succeed, was the “Cutback Amendment” offered by Pat Quinn decades before he became governor. The amendment, which took effect with the 1982 election, reduced the size of the Illinois House from 177 members, three to a district, to 118 members running in single-member districts.
Some have contended Quinn’s proposal not only decreased competition for legislative seats but also enshrined more power in the four partisan leaders of the House and Senate over their members.