3 key issues may decide Independent Map Amendment's fate

Matt DietrichReboot Illinois

Jun 23, 2016
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When the hearing on Independent Map Amendment‘s effort to take politicians out of the legislative map-drawing process gets under way on June 30, debate likely will focus on three issues.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Independent Map organization and the Illinois Board of Elections want the proposed constitutional amendment barred from appearing on the Nov. 8 ballot because they say it violates the Illinois constitution three different ways.

Documents filed with Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Larsen last week laid out the plaintiffs’ claims against the amendment and the arguments Independent Map Amendment plans to use to rebut them.

Redistricting reform itself is a complicated issue. (For some fast background, see this infographic on gerrymandering and Illinois’ current map-drawing process.) Things get even more complicated when it’s tossed into the equally complicated and highly restrictive realm of amending the Illinois Constitution by citizen initiative.

Here’s a quick guide to help you understand the meaning behind the legalese. (If you want the legalese, you’ll find it here.)

1. CITIZEN AMENDMENT POWER IS VERY LIMITED

While the Illinois General Assembly can place any constitutional amendment on the ballot with three-fifths majority votes in the state House and Senate, the Illinois Constitution says citizen-led efforts “shall be limited to structural and
procedural” changes to the General Assembly. That means citizens can’t take up petitions to change taxes, legalize marijuana or any hot issue of the day.

In fact, only one citizen-led constitutional amendment ever has made it to the ballot in Illinois. That was the so-called “cutback amendment,” which was spearheaded by former Gov. Pat Quinn and led to the reduction of membership in the Illinois House by one-third in 1980. Twice — in 1994 and in 2014 — the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that term limits for legislators are not eligible for a citizen-led constitutional amendment effort.

The lawsuit against Independent Map Amendment contends that, like term limits,  redistricting reform is not related to the structure or procedure of the General Assembly and therefore never can be changed by citizen initiative. But in a 2014 lawsuit against another effort to enact redistricting reform, Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Mikva ruled that changing the map-drawing process is permissible by citizen action.

2. DEFINING “LIMITED TO”

Even if the judge believes redistricting reform is eligible for change through a citizen-led effort, the plaintiffs say the Independent Map Amendment proposal exceeds the requirement that citizen initiatives are “limited to” structural and procedural changes in the General Assembly.

The Independent Map Amendment seeks to create a politically neutral, 11-member commission that would draw new House and Senate district maps every 10 years after the U.S. Census. The new lawsuit contends that because it changes roles for the Illinois Attorney General, Illinois Auditor General and Illinois Supreme Court in the redistricting process, it seeks to affect parts of state government outside the General Assembly.

Again, Mikva ruled against this argument in 2014.

3. TOO MANY CHANGES

The Illinois Constitution says in Article III that all elections “shall be free and equal.”  The lawsuit contends that the Independent Map Amendment would present voters with “separate and unrelated questions” that voters should be allowed to vote on individually.

The suit says voters actually should be allowed to vote on three separate questions:

  1. Should the process for redrawing legislative districts be changed?
  2. Should an independent commission “take the power to draw legislative maps from the legislature”
  3. Should the process for challenging a new map be changed

Again, this was an argument that failed in the 2014 lawsuit. “However plaintiffs may seek to slice and dice the redistricting initiative, their ‘free and equal’ argument fails because everything in the Initiative relates to (and only to) redistricting,” Independent Map Amendment writes in its memorandum.

No matter how Larsen decides this case, it almost certainly will be appealed until it reaches the Illinois Supreme Court, which will make the final decision whether voters get to decide if they want to remove politics from the drawing of political maps.

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NEXT ARTICLE: Chalk up a big one for the citizen-led Independent Map Amendment 

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