The US federal courthouse in Chicago will be the site of a trial in September involving challenges to recently passed Illinois legislative redistribution maps. (Credit: US courts)
Measure passed with only Democrats’ backing ahead of release of full census data
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Plaintiffs and state attorneys told a panel of federal judges on Wednesday that issues in two lawsuits challenging the state’s legislative redistribution plan were “straightforward” and should be resolved as soon as possible .
But the three-judge panel hearing the case seemed uncertain how much time they actually had, given the deadlines set out in the Illinois Constitution and the fact that lawmakers this year pushed back the 2022 primary by three months. to June instead of March.
The two lawsuits – one brought by Republican legislative leaders and the other by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF – both claim that the state’s new House and Senate district maps violate the United States Constitution as they were drawn using survey data rather than official census data, which has been delayed this year due to the pandemic and other factors.
The two lawsuits name the Illinois State Council of Elections and its individual members as well as Illinois Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate Speaker Don Harmon as defendants.
These two cases have since been consolidated and assigned to a panel of three judges, as required by federal law whenever a lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of a redistribution plan. These include Judge Robert Dow Jr., of the Northern District of Illinois; Judge Jon E. DeGuilio, Northern District of Indiana, and Judge Michael B. Brennan, 7e United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a remote status conference Wednesday, Charles Harris, an attorney representing Republican leaders, called it a “straightforward and straightforward case” that violates the “one person, one vote” principle under the protection clause equal to the US Constitution.
He said courts had previously ruled that legislative constituencies should be “substantially equal” in population and that data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which Democratic leaders used to draw the new maps, should not. be used for redistribution.
If the case goes to trial, which remains to be determined, Harris said his team plans to call expert witnesses, including a former Census Bureau official who would testify on why ACS data is inappropriate. , as well as a data expert who would demonstrate how using ACS data results in maps well outside the margins of what courts see as permissible population gaps.
MALDEF attorney Francisco Fernandez-del Castillo said his team planned to make substantially similar arguments. But he said they will also argue that the standard for determining whether maps meet constitutional requirements is to analyze them using data that the Census Bureau provides to states for redistribution.
These 2020 census data will not be available until mid-August. The only data currently available, he said, is from the 2010 census, and if it were used to analyze the new maps, it would not meet constitutional requirements.
But attorney Michael Kasper, who represents Welch and Harmon, said he didn’t think the case should go to trial because the plaintiffs lacked standing to prosecute and because the case was not yet “Ripe” for review.
He said under previous US Supreme Court rulings, plaintiffs can only sue if they can show they live in a district where their vote has been watered down. He also argued that the question of whether district populations vary too widely can only be resolved after the official census figures are released in August.
Under the Illinois Constitution, lawmakers have until June 30 of the year following a decennial census to approve new legislative maps. After that, the job is turned over to an eight-member legislative committee, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
If this panel cannot produce cards by August 10, a ninth member, who could be from either party, is drawn and added to the commission to give one party an edge. ‘one vote. This committee then has until October 5 to approve new cards.
The lawsuit of the Republican leaders asks the court to invoke this section of the constitution by ordering Welch and Harmon to appoint a bipartisan commission. In the alternative, they ask the court to appoint a special master to draw up valid cards.
Kasper, however, argued that such an ordinance would be an extreme remedy and that the question of whether to appoint a bipartisan commission is a matter of state law and the constitution of the state.
After the hearing, the panel issued an order directing all parties to begin lining up their expert witnesses and to set a schedule of deadlines for filing briefs. The case is tentatively set for trial September 27-29.
Capitol News Illinois is a non-profit, non-partisan news service covering state government and distributed to over 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.