SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — A federal court on Tuesday officially invalidated the old redistricting maps that Illinois Democrats scrapped and replaced with new ones in September, describing their map-making scheme as a “patchwork of political maneuvering and manipulation.”
The court also invited Republicans and Latino groups to submit their own new map proposals to prove their accusations that the updated Democratic map lines Governor Pritzker signed into law in September are unconstitutional. The ruling sets up a November hearing where the courts could determine whether to keep or throw out the new maps Pritzker signed into law last month.
Back in May, Democrats used incomplete census estimates from the American Community Survey data to rush wildly inaccurate maps to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk before a constitutional deadline would’ve forced them to allow Republicans a chance to advance their maps through a bipartisan commission.
At the time, on May 12th, Governor Pritzker said, “there is a constitutional requirement that there is a map that passes before June 30th.”
On June 3rd, after the General Assembly passed those maps to Pritzker’s desk, House Speaker Chris Welch said, “the Republicans were asking us to ignore our constitutional mandate to draw maps by June 30.”
Again, on August 23rd, Pritzker repeated, “there was a redistricting plan that was passed by June 30. That’s the constitutional deadline.”
The federal court found those claims false.
“Neither the text nor the structure of the Illinois Constitution mandates that the redistricting process be completed by June 30,” the court ruling said. “They could have waited for the census data in August 2021 before producing the maps.”
The court noted that “the Census Bureau itself states that ACS data should not be used for redistricting,” and if the General Assembly had waited for the official census data, then the Democrats in the supermajority would have to share the map-drawing powers with Republicans on a bipartisan commission.
The court scolded Democrats for prioritizing their grip on the gerrymandering process and jeopardizing voters’ constitutional rights in the process.
“The General Assembly risked running afoul of the one-person, one-vote principle to avoid ceding political control of the legislative redistricting process,” the court found.
Despite the court’s thorough criticism of the Democrats’ initial power play, the ruling also said the new maps drawn in September were warranted, and shut down any notion of moving toward a bipartisan commission at this stage, calling that a “far-fetched notion” this late in the process.
Republicans still celebrated the ruling and described it as the courts “seizing control” of the map-making process. The court ruling, however, plainly stated that the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that those powers rest with the legislature.
“This is a big setback for the Governor and his Democrat allies, because this proves that twice the Governor signed an unconstitutional map,” state senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville) said.
In fact, the court did not make any ruling on the constitutionality of the second map.
“Well, this one basically looks like it’s going to potentially invalidate that one,” Plummer backpedaled. “If the courts show that, you know, the the original map was wrong. And that map, you know, wasn’t taken out of consideration when they passed the second map.”
Plummer’s wishful thinking misreads the court’s clearly stated ruling. They struck down the old map specifically so that if, or when, the new map was temporarily suspended during the judicial review, the outdated, inaccurate map based on census estimates wouldn’t immediately become law and throw the upcoming election year into complete chaos.
Beyond generally showing deference to the legislature in redistricting matters, the court also said it would proceed toward approving the map Democrats adopted in September, unless Republicans or Latino groups could submit their own maps and demonstrate how their maps remedy any statutory defect or constitutional violation.
Senate President Don Harmon said, “Now, the Republicans finally need to put forward their own maps instead of simply complaining about ours.”
Plummer claimed the GOP map proposal would include concerns raised by Black and Latino voter groups, but he would not say if the Republican map proposal would actually include more majority-Black districts.
“The map that we’re going to submit is going to better reflect the African American population, it’s going to better reflect the Hispanic population, it’s going to reflect the groups that were overlooked,” he said.
House Deputy Majority Leader Mary Flowers (D-Chicago), the longest tenured member of the Illinois General Assembly, said, “For them to say that theirs is going to be better, I doubt that seriously.”
Other House Democrats found Plummer’s purported concern for Black voters disingenuous, and questioned why he opposed the Black Caucus’ push for expanded voter rights, criminal justice measures, police reform, and their efforts to tackle systemic racism in health care, business, and education.
“The Republican Party caring about diversity in this day sounds little bit surprising to me,” Rep. Curtis Tarver (D-Chicago) said. “There’s no one who isn’t white on that side of the aisle as well. They’ve not worked to support a Black candidate, or Latinx candidate, or anyone else.”
Republicans have until November 8th to submit their alternative map proposals. Democrats have until November 18th to object or respond. The court scheduled a status hearing for November 5th.
The 2022 primary election is scheduled for June 28th. Candidates can start circulating petitions to appear on the primary ballot in January.