Updated at 3:29 p.m. on Thursday, July 21, 2011
Illinois Republicans filed suit Wednesday in federal court to block a new legislative map drawn by the state's Democrats. The lawsuit claims the map disenfranchises minority groups - and Republicans.
The lawsuit was no surprise. Because Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office, Republicans were cut out of the once-a-decade redistricting process.
"It's pretty egregious," House Republican leader Tom Cross said of the map. "It's about as hard core a political - and raw - a political move as we've seen in this state in a long time now."
The lawsuit filed by Cross, Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno and others said the map protects incumbent Democrats and targets incumbent Republicans.
"The Redistricting Plan systematically and intentionally unfairly burdens Republican voters' rights of political expression and expressive association because of their political views," the lawsuit read.
The Republicans also claim the map dilutes the voting power of African Americans and Latinos. Their lawsuit lists one African American and three Latinos as plaintiffs.
They include a pair of young, Latino Republican activists from the Chicago area: Veronica Vera, who worked on the campaigns of gubernatorial candidate Adam Adrzejewski and U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, and Angel Garcia, the party's nominee for Cook County Clerk last year and a member of the Republican State Central Committee.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, MALDEF, has expressed disappointment in the legislative map, but is not ready to sign on to the Republican legal challenge.
"We're studying the merits of the lawsuit filed today by the Republicans. We take any challenge that's filed under the Voting Rights Act very seriously," said Elisa Alfonso, MALDEF's Midwest redistricting coordinator. "We just got the lawsuit just like everybody else today. We're looking at it and we'll be determining shortly whether to join this lawsuit, or file our own."
Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, signed off on the map last month. A statement from the governor's office on Wednesday insisted the map "represents our diverse state and protects the voting rights of minorities."
Likewise, the chair of the House Redistricting Committee, Democratic state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, issued a strong defense of the map she helped craft. In an interview Wednesday, Currie denied the purpose of the map was to target Republicans, but acknoweldged - as she has in the past - that partisanship "could play a part."
"If there is a feeling that [the Republicans] didn't get as fair a shake as they might otherwise have had, had they drawn it themselves, for example, I guess I would say that as far as I can tell from the court [redistricting] opinions, no one so far has successfully argued that political parties are deserving of some special protection in the drawing of lines for purposes of electoral representation," Currie said.
In other words, federal courts have protected the rights of minority groups in redistricting, but not those of political parties.
But a redistricting expert from George Mason University, Michael McDonald, noted that could change in the future. He pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who's written it's possible that extreme cases of partisan redistricting could be found unconstitutional.
A call to state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who led that chamber's redistricting committee, was not immediately returned.
The official defendant in the lawsuit is the Illinois State Board of Elections. The board will be represented in court by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat.
"We have just received the filing and will begin a thorough review," Robyn Ziegler, a spokesperson for Madigan, said in a emailed statement. "We plan to vigorously defend the state."
This suit is specifically about the political boundaries for state legislative districts. A separate lawsuit is expected over the new map for Illinois' U.S. House seats, which is also favorable to Democrats.