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The state of the State

Redistricting 1991: soap opera of Illinois politics


Michael D. Klemens

The Illinois Supreme Court added a plot twist to Illinois' nine-month political soap opera, "Redistricting 1991," with its December 13 ruling that it could not determine whether proposed legislative districts passed constitutional muster. The court, where Democrats have a four-to-three majority, shipped the question back to the Illinois Legislative Redistricting Commission, where Republicans have a five-to-four edge.

Justice Joseph P. Cunningham, a Democrat from Belleville, wrote the majority opinion. Two Republicans, Chief Justice Benjamin K. Miller of Springfield and Thomas J. Moran of Lake Forest, dissented.

The court put resolution of the question on a tight schedule. It directed both Republicans and Democrats to file modified redistricting plans with the court by December 27 and gave each side until January 3 to respond to the other's proposals. The court told the commission to hold an expedited hearing and submit the adopted plan to the court.

If no plan is adopted by January 6, the court threatened to order that 1992 legislative elections be conducted "at large," meaning that any voter could vote for any candidate, an event that last occurred in 1964 for all House seats. Subsequent federal legislation protecting minority voting rights would prompt a federal court challenge to an at-large election.

In their ruling a majority of the justices found procedural deficiences in the way the commission followed the constitutionally prescribed process that had gone like this:

Bill phase. Democratic lawmakers spent much of the spring session trying to hammer out a map, finally passing one on June 30. Republican Gov. Jim Edgar vetoed the Democratic plan at 11:59 p.m. on June 30, calling it politically and racially unfair.

Bipartisan commission phase. Each of the four legislative leaders named two members to the Illinois Legislative Redistricting Commission. The four Democrats and four Republicans were charged to come up with maps. The commission met and held hearings in July and August. On August 10 the commission met for a final time as an eight-member body and deadlocked four to four on the sole plan before it, the vetoed Democratic plan.

Tiebreaker phase. The Supreme Court submitted the names of Daniel P Ward, a retired Supreme Court justice and a Democrat, and Albert R. Jourdan, chairman of the state Republican party, to Secy. of State George H. Ryan. On September 5, Ryan plucked Jourdan's name from a crystal bowl as the ninth commission member. The commission elected Jourdan as its new chairman. On October 1 the Republicans introduced their redistricting plan, the Jourdan I plan. On October 3 Democrats filed an amendment to their original plan.

At its final pre-court challenge meeting on October 4, the Republicans introduced the Jourdan II plan but had no maps to share with Democrats or those attending. Then the commission took testimony from 36 persons on the Jourdan I plan. On party line votes the commission rejected the Democrats' attempt to amend their original plan, adopted the Jourdan II plan and asked a federal court, with its judges appointed by Republican presidents, to rule it valid.

Atty. Gen. Roland W. Bums, a Democrat, got the issue moved to the Illinois Supreme Court and on October 11 filed a lawsuit there challenging the Jourdan II plan.

6/January 1992/Illinois Issues

The Supreme Court's December 13 ruling criticized the lack of hearings on the maps: "Since both sides submitted plans and amendments on the last two days, thereby thwarting any type of hearing, whether for expert testimony or public criticism, we cannot in good conscience approve or disapprove any plan no matter how fair, compact or contiguous and substantially equal districts have been formed. This court finds that to do otherwise would circumvent the spirit and purpose of the Illinois Constitution."

Although the court did not review the map for compliance with constitutional mandates, it identified 24 Senate districts and 18 House districts that it said appeared not to be compact and contiguous or that appeared to dilute votes of a racial minority.

Chief Justice Miller's dissent took particular exception to the majority's complaint over lack of public hearings: "There is no requirement, constitutional or otherwise, that fact-finding hearings be conducted by the commission." Miller also noted that the Jourdan II plan represented the culmination of the process: "It is difficult to understand the majority's apparent pique with the parties' submission of their final proposals near the end of the commission proceedings."

However, the Supreme Court's interest in process could be refreshing. Justices could stop taking legislative leaders' signatures as proof of proper procedures. The Illinois Constitution requires both open meetings and public notice in sections delineating how the General Assembly shall transact business and in the section on passage of bills. Those sections could be read to require an open and orderly process for making laws. Anyone who has been around the Capitol in June knows better. Bills thought long dead come back to life as amendments to other bills. Bills that have only been whispered about all spring appear as conference committee reports, but the conferences are all private and the reports more often than not become law.

The Supreme Court's attention to process could be a good thing. Any bill on which there was no public hearing would be nullified under the court's "spirit and purpose of the Illinois Constitution" doctrine. That would mean no more June 30th Christmas tree bills, no more 11th hour pension grabs and no more last minute tax hikes. That will be an interesting ruling.

January 1992/Illinois Issues/7

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