Sharply divided along party lines, the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday blocked from the fall ballot a proposal that would have asked voters whether to change the state constitution to take much of the politics out of the redrawing of state legislative boundaries. A 4-3 Democratic majority agreed with a Cook County judge’s ruling last month that the petition-driven Independent Map amendment proposal did not fit the narrow legal window for citizen initiatives to change the 1970 Illinois Constitution. The ruling was a win for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who opposed the referendum, suggesting it would hurt protections on ensuring minority representation in the General Assembly. The speaker has maintained his hold at the Capitol for more than three decades in part because he’s had the power to draw the maps. Additionally, a longtime Madigan ally was the lead attorney for the People’s Map, a group of prominent racial and ethnic minority businessmen that challenged the proposal.
It’s also a loss for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who threw his support behind the map proposal this year when it appeared the initiative process could gain better traction than his own failed effort to get lawmakers to authorize such a ballot question. A new map-drawing process has been among a half-dozen legislative proposals Rauner has sought as conditions for breaking the budget stalemate in Springfield.
“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,” Rauner said in a statement. “When the General Assembly reconvenes this fall, they should put political reform — term limits and independent redistricting — at the top of the legislative agenda so that incumbents aren’t locked into power and democracy is restored through competitive general elections,” he said.
The state Supreme Court ruling came just one day before the Illinois State Board of Elections is to certify what appears on the Nov. 8 ballot. The Independent Maps group said it’s weighing whether to ask the high court for a rehearing.