There could be changes coming to how Illinois’ legislative maps are drawn every ten years with the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to take up a Wisconsin case on the very issue.
Longtime Democratic Party activist Bill Whitford brought the case Gill v. Whitford, which challenges Wisconsin’s 2011 State Assembly map as unconstitutional. He said his state’s apportion scheme denies residents the ability to have real choice at the ballot box.
The Seventh Circuit Court found the map violates the constitution because it gives one party more power than the other. The case was then petitioned to the nation’s high court, which announced Monday it will hear it in November.
A ruling next spring could impact not just Wisconsin, but other states with similar issues, including Illinois.
In Wisconsin, Republican majorities draw political boundaries to favor Republicans. In Illinois, Democrats have that control. The practice is known as gerrymandering.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a brief to the Supreme Court to affirm the lower court’s ruling in favor of Whitford.
CLC President Trevor Potter said the effect in Illinois is clear.
“More than 60 percent of the state legislative seats in the general election were uncontested, [with] no Republican running against those Democrats because they were such Democratic districts,” Potter said.
The same was the case for some Republican-dominated districts where there wasn’t a Democrat challenger in the most recent general election.
There could be challengers in party primaries, but Potter said that can make things more politically polarized, “which I think makes it much harder to have legislators do what the voters say they want, which is to come up and solve problems and figure out how to talk to each other and compromise.”
Paul Smith, lead plaintiffs attorney for the Wisconsin map case, said if the outcome is in their favor, there could be a lawsuit challenging Illinois’ map-making process using the ruling from the Supreme Court.
“And they would argue that the new legal standard is such that the Illinois map doesn’t measure up constitutionally and they would have a pretty good argument that it should be fixed before the next round of redistricting comes along,” Smith said.
Potter said the crux of the case in Wisconsin, as it is in Illinois and other states, is politicians pick their voters, not the other way around.
“What we have in this situation is essentially a theft of that right by whichever party is in power at that moment,” Potter said.
Smith said a victory for the plaintiffs would “be to really affect the way the legislators in all of the states draw their maps next time in 2021 because they will know there’s a much-enhanced risk of the map being thrown out and they would much more likely try to minimize the degree of bias in the maps. We’re hopeful that within the next decade, we could have a dramatically changed playing field.”
Last year, a citizen-led group in Illinois collected over half a million signatures to get a question on the general election ballot to change the state constitution, allowing for an independent commission to oversee the map-making process. The measure failed a court challenge brought by an attorney with connections to House Speaker Michael Madigan and the Illinois Democratic Party.
“Illinois suffers greatly from gerrymandered, partisan-drawn legislative districts that result in a lack of fair, competitive elections,” Brad McMillan, Vice-Chair of CHANGE Illinois, the group that took over for the effort to change how Illinois’ maps are drawn, said. “The highest court in America could establish clear constitutional limits on partisan map-drawing that could have applicability to Illinois and other states.”
The national group Patriotic Millionaires put out a statement Monday supporting the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin case.
“Too many Americans have had the key to their power — their votes — stolen by the very system that was instituted to secure their rights,” Morris Pearl, chairman of the group, said. “Partisan gerrymandering has distorted our political system and disenfranchised voters for far too long.”