A sharply divided Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a voter referendum seeking to change how the state draws political boundaries is unconstitutional — a decision Gov. Bruce Rauner blasted as “an affront to our democracy.”
The ruling, which means the referendum can’t appear on the November ballot, affirms a Cook County judge’s decision that the proposal violated provisions of the state constitution.
The Supreme Court ruling fell along partisan lines, with the four Democratic justices voting to affirm, and the three Republicans dissenting.
The decision is a blow to Rauner, who has argued that changing the way the state draws political boundaries is a crucial reform needed to restore public confidence in government.
“What drives people away from Illinois is the sense that our political system is broken and our government is unaccountable to the people,” Rauner said in a statement denouncing the ruling.
“Today’s court decision to deny Illinoisans the right to vote on a redistricting referendum does nothing to stem the outflow or change people’s views of how the system is rigged and corrupt.”
The Independent Maps coalition, a group of bipartisan business leaders and former elected officials, gathered petitions calling for an 11-member commission to be in charge of drawing legislative district lines. Currently, the party in power runs political mapmaking.
But the Supreme Court ruled that the redistricting referendum ran afoul of constitutional provisions designed to “protect the integrity of this state’s constitution” and violated “clear restrictions on the scope of permissible ballot initiatives.”
“We may not ignore our mandate by simply deferring to the redistricting approach proffered by a particular ballot proposal, no matter how appealing it may be,” Justice Thomas Kilbride wrote in the majority opinion.
“It is our role to review all ballot initiatives for constitutional merit only, and we will examine all future ballot initiative proposals brought before this court on the merit of their particular provisions.”
The Independent Maps coalition issued a statement saying it is considering asking the top court to take another look at the case.
“The Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling is extremely disappointing to all of us — to our bi-partisan coalition, to the more than 563,000 Illinois voters who signed petitions to put this important amendment on the ballot and to the many, many more Illinoisans eager for an opportunity to make the Illinois General Assembly more responsive to all of Illinois,” said Dennis FitzSimons, chairman of the coalition.
“The Supreme Court rules give us the opportunity to seek rehearing and our legal team is weighing that option. Delegates to the 1969-70 Constitutional Convention created a redistricting process they believed would encourage bipartisan mapmaking. It hasn’t worked. The result has been partisan maps, fewer competitive elections and voter dissatisfaction.”
The legal challenge was brought by an attorney linked to top Democrats. It was filed on behalf of minority business and community leaders who claimed the proposed system would diminish minority representation.
“The only thing standing in the way of political reform is Mike Madigan,” said Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe.
“Madigan and his allies sued to stop citizen-led ballot initiatives for Independent Maps and term limits, and the Speaker has used his power to stop both from passing or being voted on in Springfield.
“Madigan has worked tirelessly against reforms that would threaten his ability to rig Illinois’ political system in his favor. Legislators from both parties must reject Madigan’s obstructionism and demand reform.”
Rauner has made the redistricting drive and a call for legislative term limits a centerpiece of his Turnaround Agenda, touring the state to drum up support.
“Legislative districts should represent people based upon the community where they live,” Rauner said Thursday. “Politicians should not pick their voters by drawing spaghetti-like district lines with the sole intent of keeping one party in power regardless of how the people vote.”
“This is not a partisan idea; this is the people’s idea. Independent redistricting has strong support from both Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama, as well as non-partisan, good government groups.
“More than 500,000 citizens signed the petition to allow the entire state a chance to be heard on this issue of fairness. It is an affront to our democracy that the courts struck down yet another citizen-led referendum drive to fix the system that only benefits the people in power.”
Contributing: Associated Press