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Illinois Republicans sue in federal court to overturn Democratic-drawn legislative maps

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/9/2021 Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune
a man wearing a suit and tie: Governor J.B. Pritzker in his office at the Thompson Center in Chicago on March 15, 2021. © Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Governor J.B. Pritzker in his office at the Thompson Center in Chicago on March 15, 2021.

CHICAGO — Illinois’ Republican legislative leaders filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to overturn redistricting maps drawn by Democrats, contending the party’s reliance on population estimates is “arbitrary” and “discriminatory” and violates the U.S. Constitution.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs and Senate GOP leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods are seeking a three-judge panel that would either appoint a special master to direct new maps or order Democrats to put in place a process that would give Republicans a 50-50 chance at drawing new district boundaries.

The lawsuit comes only days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law maps redrawing boundaries for Illinois’ 118 House and 59 Senate seats. Because Democrats control the General Assembly as well as the governor’s office, they were able to approve the new boundaries without any Republican input, just as they did a decade ago.

The maps drawn after the 2010 census have contributed to a 73-45 Democratic majority in the House and a 41-18 advantage in the Senate.

The new maps are aimed at keeping Republicans as a superminority in the General Assembly, setting up at least seven one-on-one contests where House Republican incumbents would be pitted against each other based on where their homes are located.

Pritzker, who as a candidate for governor had declared he would veto partisan-drawn districts, said when he signed the maps into law last Friday that he was satisfied that they met federal and state voting rights laws, protected ethnic and racial legislative representation and would “ensure our diverse communities have electoral power and fair representation.”

But the Republican legal challenge contends the maps produced by Democrats were based on data that “ensures that historically undercounted minority communities will continue to be underrepresented.”

Central to the Republican challenge is the Democrats’ use of data from the five-year American Community Survey, a product of the U.S. Census Bureau, rather than more specific data from the actual 2020 federal census. Lawsuits inevitably follow redistricting, and the Democrats’ use of the ACS estimates had been expected to be the source for a legal challenge this time around.

The ACS estimate for Illinois for 2020 undercounts Illinois’ population by 41,877 people compared with the statewide figure provided by the federal census in April, the lawsuit notes.

Democrats said they opted to use the American Community Survey, along with unspecified “election data,” to draw the map lines because of delays in the reporting of the federal census due to the pandemic and to unsuccessful efforts by the Trump administration to try to block counting noncitizens.

The more detailed census data is normally used for drawing maps that create districts of equal population as well as districts that give ethnic and racial communities the opportunity to elect minority representation in the legislature. But nothing in Illinois law mandates the use of the census to redraw General Assembly boundaries.

Census results are traditionally available in April of the year following the decennial count, but this time around will not arrive until mid-August at the earliest. That’s far past a June 30 state constitutional deadline for lawmakers and the governor to pass their own map into law. Failure to meet that deadline would have set in motion a procedure in which Republicans and Democrats would participate in a drawing to determine which party draws the maps.

“In its zeal to rush a plan through the legislature, the General Assembly drew the legislative districts in the plan using population estimates derived from a survey rather than waiting a few months for the U.S. Census Bureau to provide redistricting data containing official population counts from the 2020 decennial census,” said the GOP lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

Republicans “seek a declaration that the plan is unconstitutional, invalid and thus void,” the lawsuit said. “Any state legislative redistricting plan must satisfy the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Key among these requirements is the equal protection guarantee of ‘one person, one vote,’ requiring state legislative districts to be of equal, or at the very least, substantially equal population.”

Durkin said in a statement that a number of good-government advocacy groups testified in opposition to using estimated population data rather than specific census results.

“The tone-deaf Democratic Party of Illinois has robbed citizens of a fair and transparent legislative mapmaking process and I plan to be a conduit for Illinois citizens who demand honesty by ensuring they also have their day in court,” he said.

McConchie said the survey estimates “have never before been used for redistricting in Illinois and we plan to challenge the legitimacy of these maps to the fullest extent of the law.”

In a joint statement, the Democratic leaders of the Senate Redistricting Committee, state Sens. Omar Aquino and Elgie Sims, said the move by legislative Republicans was “disappointing but not surprising” and contended the new maps “reflect the great racial and geographic diversity of our state.”

“Throughout this process, (Republicans) have done nothing but delay and obstruct efforts to ensure our communities are fairly represented, as seen by their refusal to even draft their own proposals,” the Chicago Democrats said. “We stand by our work to ensure everyone has a voice in state government.”

In a separate statement, Democratic state Rep. Lisa Hernandez of Cicero, who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said, “We have full confidence in the maps passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Pritzker and we will continue to review this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit names the Illinois State Board of Elections and its members as well as the state’s Democratic legislative leaders, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside and Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park.

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