A divided Illinois Supreme Court narrowly ruled Thursday that a voter referendum seeking to change how Illinois draws political boundaries is unconstitutional, making it ineligible to appear on the November ballot. The high court, in a 4-3 decision, affirmed the ruling by a Cook County judge who determined the ballot initiative seeking to give legislative mapmaking power to an independent commission instead of lawmakers didn’t meet constitutional muster. It’s the second failed attempt to overhaul redistricting by petition in two years. The ruling in the high-stakes case – falling the day before an election deadline to certify fall ballots – had the potential to alter Illinois’ political power dynamic, where elected officials in the Democratic-leaning state run the once-a-decade process. But in a 63-page ruling the majority justices said the measure didn’t meet narrow constitutional requirements.
“The intent demonstrated by both the plain constitutional language and this court’s prior case law imposes clear restrictions on the scope of permissible ballot initiatives,” Justice Thomas Kilbride wrote for the majority. “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.”
The legal arguments in the case have largely centered on whether the ballot measure met the constitutional scope of being “structural and procedural” to the state’s Legislature. It’s a high bar. Only one other petition-driven measure has made it to the ballot.
Justices were sharply divided. Dissenting Justice Robert Thomas blasted the majority decision as “nothing less than the nullification of a critical component” of the constitution with “particularly unfortunate” timing.