Democrats’ legislative remap dilutes Illinois minority voting power, lawsuits claim
The plaintiffs representing Black and Latino voters argued Illinois Democrats’ new legislative maps are gerrymandered to break up voting blocs, diluting minority voting power during the next decade.
Minority groups were arguing before federal judges that state legislative maps redrawn by the state’s Democrats violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act because they split up minority voting power.
Oral arguments in three federal lawsuits challenging the remap began Dec. 7 in Chicago. The suits were filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Black voters in the Metro East represented by the NAACP and United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations as well as Republican leaders in the Illinois General Assembly.
They argue Democrats have twice passed legislative maps that break up Latino and Black voting blocs in the state. They submitted their own maps and argued against judges sending the process back to state lawmakers because twice those lawmakers have made maps that break up minority communities.
The three federal judges overseeing the oral arguments focused on long-accepted claims suggesting that voters of different races and ethnicities still vote as identifiable blocs. They asked whether exact composition of a district really matters, or if there is enough “crossover” voting in Illinois where minorities can still win representation in the General Assembly.
Attorneys defending the Democrats’ legislative maps argued “crossover voting in Illinois is the norm, not the exception.” The defendants pointed out that even though whites make up the state’s largest group, the current lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state are all Black while one U.S. senator, Tammy Duckworth, is Asian American.
The plaintiffs countered many minority members of the general assembly were appointed to their positions mid-term by state Democrats rather than by district voters, giving them an incumbent edge when running for reelection.
“Voters should not have to rely on the benevolence of party leaders” to receive fair representation, one attorney for the Republican plaintiffs said.
Democrats who boast supermajorities in both the House and Senate, however, defended the appointments as showing the party’s commitment to ensuring minority representation in Illinois.
The federal judges have indicated they intend to issue a ruling as quickly as possible as not to interfere with the 2022 election cycle.
Much of the controversy the redistricting process has drawn from these groups could have been avoided had Gov. J.B. Pritzker held to his pledge to veto gerrymandered maps or the Illinois Constitution been amended to take redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers and put in the hands of an independent redistricting commission. Fifteen states have already established such commissions for legislative redistricting, some with positive results.