Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Legislative maps face another legal challenge

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois' new Congressional and state legislative district maps face yet another lawsuit.

The League of Women Voters of Illinois sued to have both maps tossed out, claiming they violate the First Amendment rights of voters by trying to control their political voices. “By considering the partisan composition of the districts and the political competitiveness of election campaigns in such districts, the General Assembly is unlawfully attempting to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear and receive,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says that trying to make districts politically competitive — something that would require voting history and information on party affiliations — is a valid goal. But it says that Democratic mapmakers were more concerned with maximizing political benefits than ensuring that races would be competitive. “ By use of methods to control or influence the kind of views that residents are likely to hear and receive, without safeguards ensuring such action is narrowly tailored to serve legitimate state interests, there is a significant risk that the General Assembly and Congressional delegation will become less accountable and responsive to changes in public opinion and less under popular control,” the complaint said.

“The problem is the usual gerrymandering. It doesn’t matter who is in office. They just do it,” said Jan Dorner, president of the League of Women Voters of Illinois. “It isn’t specifically about these maps. … our hope is to change it from now on.”

Republican state legislative leaders and a Republican-backed group have already challenged the state and congressional maps in federal court. Their challenges allege the maps dilute the political power of Hispanic population of the state, among other complaints. Dorner said by focusing on First Amendment rights, the league is scrutinizing legislative maps in a way they have not been challenged before. “Filing under the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution — we think is a new legal claim.”

Dorner said new maps should be drawn by an independent commission without taking political data into account. The group backed an effort in early 2010 for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would have put the once-a-decade redistricting process into the hands of a commission. The Fair Map Group was unable to collect the needed number of signatures to get the amendment on the ballot. A Republican attempt to pass the amendment through the legislature also fell short. Democrats criticized the league for working closely with their political opponents and a playing a large role in what was, in part, an effort financially backed by Republican state legislative leaders. “Three years ago, we were being called Democrats by the Republicans,” Dorner said. “Just recently we have apparently become Republicans. Bottom line is, we believe in what’s right. And I don’t care if it's Democratic or Republican or Green or Libertarian.”

Gov. Pat Quinn today voiced his support for the maps he signed into law. “The process for redistricting both the congressional districts and state legislative districts was the most open process Illinois has ever had. There was ample public participation and opportunity to participate. I looked at both maps in a very careful way and made a decision that they were fair — done through an open process. So, we’re happy to defend that work in any court in the land.”

No comments: