Independent Maps Group Throws Hail Mary

The group trying to take on entrenched political interests and end politically drawn legislative maps may still have life. Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against the group's effort, effectively ending a yearslong battle that cost millions of dollars. It was a strict party-line vote that raised concerns from some observers about the political nature of the state Supreme Court itself.

The Independent Maps group got 563,000 signatures and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put that issue before voters in a ballot referendum. But the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 vote that the question could not be put before voters, that it violated what the Illinois Constitution said was permissible for a public referendum.

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Wednesday the group said they believe the four majority justices got it wrong, and they’ve petitioned the court to reconsider its ruling, something akin to a judicial Hail Mary.

“This is a long shot, there’s no doubt about it,” said Independent Maps Chairman Dennis FitzSimons. “But we owe it to the 563,000 who signed petitions, we owe it to contributors, to volunteers to try and do everything we can to get this on the ballot and not give up.”

Four justices would have to agree to reconsider the case.

The group was proposing to have the Illinois auditor general pick a commission of 11 people that would redraw the map every 10 years. But the court ruled that that goes beyond the scope of what the constitution allows. The dissenters on the court vehemently disagreed. Justice Bob Thomas wrote, “The constitution was meant to prevent tyranny, not enshrine it.”

Ann Lousin is a law professor at John Marshall Law School and was one of the framers at the 1970 Illinois constitutional convention. She says she agrees with the majority opinion.

“The Independent Maps people are dead wrong. … The sole reason for this entire provision was that the people who were favoring single-member districts for election of the Illinois House wanted a means by which they could get petition signatures,” Lousin said, referring to the Cutback Amendment of 1980, where voters voted on a referendum to reduce the number of legislators in the Illinois House. It is the only public-led petition that has been successful.

The whole reason this issue got to the Supreme Court was because of a lawsuit filed by Madigan’s top Democratic Party attorney Michael Kasper on behalf of a group called the People’s Map. The group has not reported who is financing it, but Independent Maps have insinuated that it’s a front for Madigan and other power brokers who are more interested in preserving their own power.

The Illinois Supreme Court has come under some heat for its strict party-line vote. The justices run for office as Republicans or Democrats, they receive money from the likes of Madigan and political parties, which raises questions about how independent they really are in their rulings.

“The big problem is we elect our Supreme Court justices in partisan elections, so they start out having to raise money to run partisan campaigns,” said David Melton, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “That is probably not the best way to select Supreme Court justices, because it makes them dependent on big contributors and power brokers, and that raises questions on how much influence those power brokers have.”

But Lousin says she doesn’t believe the politics go away with an appointed Supreme Court.

“There’s always a question of who does the appointing and who screens the people ahead of time. I used to be for merit selection, but then came Rod Blagojevich. Do you want him appointing Supreme Court judges?”

If the state Supreme Court does indeed reconsider the case, they’d have about a month or so until a drop-dead deadline to get the question on the November ballot.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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Aug. 31: The head of the Chicago Police Board on what it will take to change the culture of the department and restore public confidence, and what's next for Independent Maps.

Effort to End Gerrymandering in Illinois Officially Dead

Aug. 25: The Illinois Supreme Court late Thursday evening ruled that the question of map drawing cannot appear before voters on the November ballot. The process will remain in the hands of state power brokers like House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Latest on the Legal Battle Over Remapping

Aug. 8: Lori Lightfoot, who represents the Independent Map Amendment, and state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who introduced a competing redistricting plan earlier this year, discuss the latest in the court fight over redistricting.

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