Everyone knew that a citizen effort to end gerrymandering of Illinois legislative maps would meet big resistance from those who benefit from gerrymandering. Which is to say, a lawsuit from or on behalf of House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan.
What we didn’t expect was a lawsuit before the anti-gerrymandering proposal even was filed.
That’s what arrived Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court, where former Madigan legal counsel Michael Kasper — an election law expert who represented Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a residency challenge that threatened Emanuel’s candidacy in 2011 — filed suit to stop the proposed constitutional amendment from appearing on the Nov. 4 election ballot. The lawsuit also seeks to block a separate citizen initiative, backed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, that would impose term limits for lawmakers, reduce the number of state senators and impose a higher vote threshold for lawmakers to override a governor’s veto.
The lawsuit (posted below) was filed the same day that Rauner trucked petitions containing more than 590,000 signatures to Springfield to file his term limits proposal.
Today, the Yes for Independent Maps coalition is hosting events in Chicago and Springfield as it packs, ships and delivers petitions containing more than 530,000 signatures to the Illinois Board of the Elections. Yes for Independent Maps’ proposal seeks to remove legislators from the drawing of their own district boundaries. It would create an independent commission to draw a new legislative map following each U.S. Census.
Illinois Democrats have drawn the last two legislative maps, in 2001 and 2011, and the results have helped the party achieve veto-proof, three-fifths majorities in both the House and Senate. Research has shown that the party that draws a district map can win more seats with fewer votes. (Click here to see a study on the effects of party-drawn 2011 district maps around the Midwest.)
Madigan had refrained from commenting on the redistricting reform effort until last week, when he began openly criticizing it as an effort by Republicans who are angry because they have controlled only one legislative map, in 1991, since the current state constitution went into effect in 1970. He has said also that it’s an effort to restrict minority representation.
“Over the last 50 years, five maps. Republicans have done one out of five. They’re angry, and this is part of their Republican politics. That’s all there is,” Madigan said last week.
But Yes for Independent Maps has been emphatic throughout its effort that a non-politically driven legislative actually will improve minority representation while placing all citizens into districts that better represent their interests — not the interests of the map-creators who want to see candidates of their party reelected. (Yes for Independent Maps director Michael Kolenc explains why in this piece.)
Kolenc sent an email to supporters after Kasper filed his lawsuit on Wednesday:
Well, it took almost no time for Mike Madigan and his lawyer to file their first frivolous lawsuit against Independent Maps. In fact, they filed it before we even got to Springfield with our petitions!
That tells you how desperate they are to keep us off the ballot, and how worried they are at the prospect of a system that puts the voters back in charge. Madigan’s blatantly political attempt to question the constitutionality of Independent Maps is just a feeble distraction from the back-room deals that dominate Illinois’ redistricting process, no matter which party is in power.
Our diverse supporters include former U.S. Attorneys, top-tier legal scholars, and many of the state’s most well-respected lawyers of all political stripes. This team spent two years making sure our amendment could withstand scrutiny, and we are confident in this proposal. It is exactly the kind of referendum that the drafters of the Illinois Constitution believed should bypass the legislature and go directly to the voters. After all, the leaders of the Illinois General Assembly have no reason to fix the system that has kept them, and their hand-picked successors, in power for decades.
We all knew the status quo would have an outsized reaction to us submitting petitions, but no one thought their fear would lead them to these depths quite so quickly. But thanks to you, tomorrow we’re going to give them over 500,000 reasons that the people of Illinois want our government back.
The lawsuit says both proposed amendments exceed the state constitution’s limits on what citizen initiatives are allowed to change. While the General Assembly can send an amendment changing any part of the constitution to voters, amendments initiated by citizen referendum are allowed only to change the structure and procedure of the General Assembly.
Madigan is not a plaintiff, but the individuals and groups who filed the suit all have Democratic connections.
Kasper’s clients in the suit range from prominent Chicago African-American businessmen, including Frank Clark, Leon Finney, Elzie Higginbottom and John Hooker, to the chambers of commerce in the city neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little Village, as well as members of the NACCP in Peoria.
The lawsuit comes less than two weeks after an hour-long River North restaurant luncheon of more than 50 representatives of groups providing services to ethnic and racial minorities that featured Kasper and controversial Latino political activist and lobbyist Victor Reyes. The two urged group members to sign onto a taxpayers’ lawsuit to challenge the proposed amendments, said sources who asked not to be identified for fear of risking their ability to secure state grant dollars.
The emailed luncheon invitations came from the office of state Rep. Edward Acevedo and asked invitees to join the lawmaker and “Speaker Michael Madigan,” though Madigan did not attend. Acevedo is a member of Madigan’s House Democratic leadership team.
The complete lawsuit is below. Scroll to page 12 to begin reading the legal arguments against the fair maps effort. As you read it, keep in mind that there is no power that party leaders value more than the ability to create districts friendly to their own members and to the maximum disadvantage of the opposing party.
And also keep in mind — as explained in this post — that more times than not, the privilege of drawing the map has gone to the party that wins a drawing by the secretary of state. Only once since 1970, in 2011, has a party earned the right to draw the map by having majorities in both the House and Senate.
- Former Gov. Jim Edgar on term limits: Good politics, bad governing.
- Term limits are a big answer to a small problem.
- Study casts doubt on effectiveness of term limits in Illinois.
- Why term limits are a tempting distraction from fairer elections.
- Don’t just get mad about the state of Illinois government. Use our Sound Off tool to make your feelings known to your representatives in Springfield, the governor and the four legislative leaders. From taxes to pensions to sweetheart deals for corporations, we’ve got an issue you can Sound Off about. Try it out here.