The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday denied two top Republican leaders’ request to file a motion for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief as an original action in their challenge to the Democratic-drawn redistricting maps.
The court was split along party lines in its decision, with the court’s three Republican justices dissenting from the order that will likely put an end to the redistricting challenge.
House Republican Leader Thomas H. Cross III and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno filed a complaint in February against the State Board of Elections and other state officials, claiming the redistricting maps are unconstitutional.
The complaint contends that 27 representative districts, including districts 113 and 114 in St. Clair County, violated provisions of the Illinois Constitution requiring districts to be compact and politically fair. Republicans claim that Democrats gerrymandered the districts in a way that would benefit their party in the next election.
The court in March ordered both parties to file briefs on whether the motion was timely under Supreme Court Rule 382, which governs actions related to redistricting challenges. The Board of Elections argued that the Republicans waited more than eight months after the maps were approved to file the complaint in an effort to delay the primary election.
On Thursday, the state high court, in a 4-3 vote along party lines, issued an order on the specific issue of timeliness – the doctrine of laches – and denied the Republicans’ motion.
“The sole issue before the court today is whether plaintiffs’ attempted redistricting challenge is untimely and therefore barred by the equitable doctrine of laches because it comes too close to this year’s elections,” Justice Robert R. Thomas wrote in his dissent to the court’s two paragraph order. “I am convinced that the action is timely, and that laches is not a bar.”
The court’s two other Republicans, Justices Rita B. Garman and Lloyd A. Karmeier, joined Thomas’ dissent.
Thomas further argued that while laches may prevent the granting of redistricting relief in an imminent election, “it does not bar the granting of relief in relation to subsequent elections, which is what plaintiffs here are seeking.”
“In light of these considerations, I would grant plaintiffs’ request for leave to file their original action, give them their day in court, and then decide this important matter of public policy on the merits rather than on the equitable and purely discretionary doctrine of laches,” he wrote.
A joint statement was issued by Cross and Radogno.
“It is unfortunate the Illinois Supreme Court issued a partisan decision,” it read. “The majority took the unusual step of providing no grounds for their decision to prevent the people of Illinois from getting their day in court. The ruling is further evidence of the need for true redistricting reform in Illinois.”