CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a voter referendum seeking to change the system Illinois uses to draw political boundaries is unconstitutional, making it ineligible to appear on the November ballot.
The 4-3 decision, which affirmed a Cook County circuit court judge's ruling, said the measure that would give the power to draw legislative maps to an independent commission instead of lawmakers didn't meet constitutional muster. A county judge rejected a similar signature-driven effort in 2014.
The Independent Maps coalition sought for voters to endorse a new process that would involve an 11-member bipartisan commission, claiming the current process is too political.
However, the ballot measure was challenged by a lawsuit brought by an attorney who'd previously represented top Democrats, including the leader of the state party, House Speaker Michael Madigan. The complaint argued that the proposed question didn't meet the narrow constitutional requirements of being both "structural and procedural" to the state's Legislature. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of minority business and community leaders who claimed a new process would diminish minority representation, however those arguments were not addressed in court.
Independent Maps' organizers dismissed the lawsuit as the work of "entrenched" interests. Democratic leaders said they were not involved in the lawsuit and that the attorney, Michael Kasper, is a prominent Chicago lawyer who has long specialized in election-related questions.
The ballot measure's attorneys had argued that since legislative districts are the "building blocks of the General Assembly," redistricting is by its nature structural and procedural. In briefs to the state's high court, they addressed the intent of the Illinois Constitution, last rewritten in 1970. They argued that not reversing the Cook County judge's ruling would "eviscerate the constitutional right" to directly propose reforms.
Backers of the ballot measure — including Republican former Gov. Jim Edgar and former White House chief of staff Bill Daley— said they learned from the failed 2014 effort to change redistricting and fine-tuned their proposal for the Nov. 8 ballot. It outlined a complex process to choose the commission involving the state auditor general, bipartisan leaders from the state House and Senate, a random drawing and, if necessary, members of the Illinois Supreme Court. The first commission would have been appointed in 2021.
State election officials had already determined that the measure appeared to have enough valid signatures for the ballot.