The long battle to make it harder to gerrymander Illinois legislative districts suffered a major setback Wednesday when a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled a proposed amendment that was to go to the voters on Nov. 8 is unconstitutional.
Backers of the amendment, who collected a stunning 564,000 signatures on petitions seeking the referendum, on Wednesday filed for an expedited appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.
We can’t predict how that appeal will fare, except to point out that the Circuit Court ruled overwhelmingly against the remap plan. We would hope the high court reverses Wednesday’s ruling. But if not, supporters of this essential reform can’t give up. The stakes are too high. As the reformers did in 2014 when an anti-gerrymandering plan failed a court test, they must return to drawing board and draft an amendment that can pass court muster.
Gerrymandering, in which politicians draw borders of voting districts in a way to favor a particular political party, is perhaps the single biggest impediment to democracy in Illinois. Elections are so one-sided that in many jurisdictions the minority party does not bother to field a candidate.
But the power to reshuffle that stacked deck lies, perhaps more than ever now, in the hands of the very people uninterested in any change — the state’s Democratic legislative leaders. The court ruled that the remap plan, which would have assigned new duties to the state auditor general and Supreme Court, went beyond constitutionally allowed “structural” and “procedural” changes to the Legislature.
Today’s court ruling was a defeat for democracy and a victory for House Speaker Mike Madigan and Company, who have consistently put their own political interests above the power of your vote.
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