Ann Maher Aug. 26, 2016, 5:11pm


Supporters of the Independent Map Amendment are blasting Thursday's Supreme Court ruling which keeps the design of legislative maps in the hands of politicians.

The 4-3 party-line decision derails a movement advanced by 563,000 Illinoisans and bi-partisan groups that wanted voters in November to decide whether an independent committee should draw political maps in a state that's well-known for gerrymandering and one-party rule.

The decision upholds a Cook County circuit court ruling that the amendment's language did not meet state constitution requirements for citizen amendments.

“It is unfortunate the Supreme Court ruled against giving the voters an opportunity to decide how legislative boundaries are drawn,” said State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-112).

“The current system is rigged to protect most incumbents because the majority party draws the boundaries to increase their odds of getting re-elected and that is just plain wrong. I support taking the process out of the hands of incumbents and back in the hands of the people who elect us. The result, more competitive races that will hold elected officials accountable.”

The decision benefits House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose dominance in state politics relates to having control of the map-making process. Maps are re-drawn every 10 years following results of U.S. census reports.

The decision also was a hit to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who in addition to favoring independent map-making, also is pushing for term limits.

"What drives people away from Illinois is the sense that our political system is broken and our government is unaccountable to the people," Rauner said in a statement. "The Illinois system only works for the political insiders who benefit at the expense of the poor, the vulnerable and the middle class."

Rauner further stated that "fair maps create fair districts."

"The system is broken and controlled by career politicians," he stated. "People leave when they cannot hold their politicians accountable."

Kilbride effect

The leader of Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) is disappointed but not surprised by the ruling against the Independent Map Amendment.

After all, said ICJL president John Pastuovic, the justice who wrote the majority opinion, Thomas Kilbride, "carries the water for the Democratic Party."

Kilbride, of Rock Island, is elected from the state's Third Judicial District. The area includes a swath of 21 counties situated south of Chicago, north of Springfield and stretching from the state's western border to its eastern edge. The electorate is neither solidly Democratic nor Republican, a reason why a justice elected from this district can have a profound impact on the court's direction.

The court is currently comprised of four Democrat and three Republican justices.

A fight for ideological control of the court was in play as Kilbride sought retention to a second 10-year term in 2010.

In spite of an effort to defeat him - largely funded by ICJL's political action committee - Kilbride was retained by a vote of 65.9 percent to 34.1 percent. He needed at minimum 60 percent to be retained.

As the campaign unfolded, the ICJL explained that it had viewed Kilbride as "the most hostile" justice to the business and medical community.

Kilbride was one of four justices who in February 2010 voted to overturn a medical malpractice law adopted in 2005 which had capped non-economic "pain and suffering" damages against hospitals and doctors.

While the ICJL had raised about $700,000 to unseat Kilbride from business groups that included the American Tort Reform Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the amount paled in comparison to the support Kilbride got.

Kilbride received in direct contributions from the Democratic Party of Illinois - chaired by Madigan - approximately $1.5 million.

Pastuovic described Madigan's support of Kilbride as "returning the favor."

Not only did Kilbride benefit from another approximate $1 million in funding largely from labor groups, including state teachers' unions, he also enjoyed the endorsement of former Republican Gov. Jim Thompson.

In fact, a direct mail piece sent late in the election season titled, "Election Alert for Republicans," included a photo of a "Republican" elephant, which critics said was intended to give the impression to recipients that Kilbride was Repubican.

Map decision

In Kilbride's majority opinion on the map initiative, he wrote that the proposal did not comport with legal requirements for citizen initiatives to change the 1970 Illinois Constitution.

"Even when concerned citizens legitimately attempt to exercise their constitutional right to seek changes in their state government through ballot initiatives, this court is constrained by the expressed intent of the framers of our constitution to review the propriety of only the specific provisions in the proposal before it," he wrote.

In sharp dissent, Justice Robert Thomas wrote: "The Illinois constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it."

Chairman of Independent Maps, Dennis FitzSimons, said his group was weighing its options on whether to ask for a court rehearing,.

"The only way to end partisan mapmaking is to turn the duty over to an impartial commission as has been done in California and Arizona," he said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, the only way to make that change in Illinois is by a constitutional amendment brought to the ballot by citizens.

"It’s very clear the drafters of the 1970 Illinois Constitution understood that dynamic, and that’s why they gave voters the power to propose amendments to change the legislative article and specifically the provisions relating to redistricting.

"Drafters of the Illinois Constitution would not recognize the interpretation made by the Supreme Court majority. According to the majority, voters cannot propose sensible changes to the legislative article that would make a meaningful difference in the way legislative district boundaries are drawn."

(Editor's note: The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform owns the Record).

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