Plaintiffs in two lawsuits challenging the state's legislative redistricting plan have filed new complaints in federal court charging that the district maps that lawmakers approved in August dilute Latino voting power and thus violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational fund, or MALDEF, and legislative Republican leaders both argue that while the Latino population in Illinois experienced strong growth over the last 10 years, the new maps actually reduce the number of Latino “opportunity” districts – those in which Latinos make up 50 percent or more of the voting-age population.
“The General Assembly did not merely fail to create more Latino opportunity districts, it created fewer of them,” MALDEF argued in its latest filing.
Both amended complaints were filed in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois on Friday, Oct. 1, one week after Gov. JB Pritzker signed the newest maps into law.
Both lawsuits name House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, and Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, as defendants, along with the Illinois State Board of Elections and its individual members, as defendants. Both seek to have the redistricting plan invalidated and new maps drawn.
The two sets of plaintiffs originally filed lawsuits shortly after lawmakers passed the first redistricting plan for the Illinois House and Senate during the regular spring session. Those maps were based on population estimates because the Census Bureau had not yet released official census data.
But after the official 2020 census numbers were released in mid-August, the House and Senate came back into session to adopt a second set of maps using the official census numbers.
In both cases, plaintiffs are now asking a three-judge federal panel to declare the maps unconstitutional under the one-person-one-vote doctrine as well as illegal under the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits states from using any “standard, practice or procedure” that results in the denial of the right of any citizen to vote on the basis of race or membership in a recognized language minority group.
In their amended complaints, both sets of plaintiffs argue that while Illinois lost population overall between 2010 and 2020, the Latino population grew by more than more than 300,000, to just over 2.3 million, while the Latino voting-age population – people 18 years of age and older – grew to just over 1 million. That meant their overall share of the state’s population grew to 18.2 percent, up from 15.8 percent, while their share of the voting-age population grew to 11.2 percent, up from 8 percent.
During the spring session, Democratic lawmakers who control the General Assembly moved quickly to adopt new maps, despite not having official census data, in order to meet a June 30 deadline in the Illinois Constitution for the legislature to draw maps. After that, the process is handed to a bipartisan legislative commission where Republicans would have had a 50-50 chance of controlling the process.
In their suit, Republicans argue that because the first set of maps was unconstitutional, Democrats actually failed to meet the June 30 deadline and, therefore, the process should still be handed over to such a commission. But judges on the federal panel have indicated that question will probably have to be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, not a federal district court.
Under federal court rules, the defendants have 21 days, or until Oct. 21, to respond. Both lawsuits are tentatively slated for trial before the same three-judge panel in late November or early December.
The latest amended complaints comes just as lawmakers are about to start the process of drawing new congressional district maps. Both the House and Senate redistricting committees have scheduled a series of public hearings over the next two weeks leading up to the fall veto session, which begins Oct. 19.
The first House hearing is scheduled for noon Thursday at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago. The first Senate hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.
Because Illinois lost population overall in the 2020 census, it will lose one of its 18 congressional districts.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.