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Federal judge throws out Illinois' redistricting maps as unconstitutional

Federal judge throws out Illinois' redistricting maps as unconstitutional
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed the redistricting maps into law on June 4. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 21 (UPI) -- A federal court has thrown out redistricting plans for the state of Illinois as unconstitutional for violating the "one-person, one-vote" principle.

The ruling comes in response to two lawsuits -- one filed by the Democratic Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the other by the Republican Party of Illinois. Their cases were consolidated as both plaintiffs alleged the June Redistricting Plan violated their right to Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

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The redistricting maps in question, which were based on American Community Survey data, were approved by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in May prior to the release of the 2020 U.S. decennial census as it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the redistricting plan into law on June 4.

The three-judge panel ruled Wednesday that the redistricting plan created for both House and Senate districts were either over populated or under populated, which would dilute the voting power of their constituents, in violation of the constitution.

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The defendants had argued that they had faced a constitutional mandate to enact the plan before June 30 as their reason for not waiting for the release of the census data.

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However, the judges rejected this argument, saying there is no mandate saying the plans had to be completed by that date, only that if it they were not, a redistricting commission would take over.

The judges said the Democrats didn't wait for the census data to be released because of their desire to avoid handing over the redrawing of the maps to a bipartisan commission.

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"Political considerations are not unconstitutional and courts are reluctant to wade into, much less to reverse, partisan maps, including those that amount to political gerrymanders," the court said. "While there is nothing legally wrong with this approach, it is not a proper rationale for violating constitutionally-required mandates, including the drawing of districts of approximately equal population."

"In other words," the judges said, "the General Assembly may not dilute a large percentage of voters to advance a preferred political outcome."

The three-judge panel ruled the plaintiffs have until Nov. 8 to submit proposed revisions to the map with the state to offer its responses and objections 10 days later. The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.

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"The court has affirmed what MALDEF has argued since Illinois began the redistricting process -- that proceeding with redistricting using estimates of population rather than census enumeration data would result in unconstitutional maps," Ernest Herrera, MALDEF staff attorney, said in a statement.

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Republican House leader Jim Durkin and Republican Senate leader Dan McConchie called the ruling in a statement issued to The State Journal-Register "a victory for Illinois citizens, advocacy groups and communities of interest."

"During this process, the Republican caucuses consistently demanded transparency and fairness in mapmaking, which were rejected by the Democrats and Gov. Pritzker," the pair said. "The court's ruling validates all the concerns that were raised during the Democrats' unconstitutional attempt to gerrymander Illinois."

The ruling comes days after the MALDEF with several other voting civil rights groups sued Texas over redistricting plans on accusations they are unconstitutional and strip Latinos of their voting power.

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