Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Illinois' new legislative maps face legal challenges

By Jamey Dunn

Republicans and a Republican-backed organization filed a lawsuit today claiming Illinois’ new congressional map violates the U.S. Constitution as well as the Federal Voting Rights Act. This new lawsuit means that both of the state’s Democratic-drawn maps will face a challenge in court.

The suit alleges that the map dilutes the voting rights of the state’s growing Hispanic population. The lawsuit, which names 11 current Republican Illinois House members as plaintiffs, says the map “blatantly discriminates against Republican and Latino voters.” The complaint says the new map effectively reverses the results of the 2010 congressional election, which gave Republicans control of the state’s congressional delegation.

Those opposed to the map say Democrats are seeking to achieve such political goals at the expense of Latino voters. “Despite explosive growth in the state's Hispanic population, the Democrats' map intentionally discriminates against Hispanic voters by providing for only one Hispanic-majority congressional district — the same number the state of Illinois has had since the 1992 election cycle — and further weakens their voting strength by apportioning the rest of the community's population among a number of other districts drawn to specifically protect non-Hispanic white Democratic incumbents,” said a prepared statement from The Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map, which includes Dennis Hastert, former Republican speaker of the U.S. House.

“We’ve listened to advocacy groups from various Latino communities,” Chicago Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul, sponsor of the map, said as it was debated earlier this year in the Illinois Senate. He said no group called for two Latino congressional districts. “We have followed traditional redistricting principles in coming up with this map.”

The suit also alleges that Democrats used their control of the state legislature and governor’s office to draw irregularly shaped districts with an eye toward winning elections. “The map as a whole and several individual districts in particular represent a flexing of Democratic political muscle in Springfield aimed at creating a Democratic majority in the Illinois congressional delegation, regardless of the actual preferences of the electorate demonstrated only nine months ago,” the lawsuit says.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said that the districts are more compact than the previous map, which was drawn to protect incumbents. “If there’s any odd shaped districts, it’s because of the Voting Rights Act,” Cullerton said. “It’s politically fair, and you’ll see that bear out in the next 10 years.” Some experts agree with this take. “They did use the map to their advantage in some creative ways. But it’s actually less gerrymandered than the last one,” said Chris Mooney, a political studies professor with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

State Republican leaders filed a separate suit on similar grounds against the state legislative map last week. They claim the map violates the rights of minority voters, who they say would not be allowed fair opportunity to participate in the political process under the map. “The Democrats passed a map this session that we believe is in direct violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act and some of our most basic rights under the constitution,” House Minority Leader Tom Cross, said in a prepared statement. “They should be ashamed of themselves. We are optimistic that the court will agree with us and will help give our residents a fair map that accurately reflects our population, especially our growing Latino population.”

While both lawsuits include individual Latino residents, no Latino advocacy group — many of which were vocal during the remap process — has yet signed on to either complaint.

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