Complainants: New Illinois legislative cards dilute Latin American vote
Plaintiffs in two lawsuits challenging the state’s legislative redistribution plan have filed new complaints in federal court accusing the district cards lawmakers approved in August of diluting Latino voting power and thus violating the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, and Republican legislative leaders both argue that while Illinois’ Latin American population has grown steeply over the past 10 years, the new maps are in fact reducing the number of Latino “opportunity” districts – those in which Latinos make up 50 percent or more of the voting age population.
“The General Assembly has not simply failed to create more Latino opportunity districts, it has created fewer,” MALDEF argued in its latest dossier.
The two amended complaints were filed in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois on Friday, October 1, a week after Governor JB Pritzker signed the last cards.
Both lawsuits name Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, and Speaker of the Senate Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, as defendants, as well as the Illinois State Council of Elections and its individual members, as defendants. Both seek to invalidate the division plan and to draw up new maps.
Both groups of plaintiffs initially filed lawsuits shortly after lawmakers passed the first Illinois House and Senate redistribution plan during the regular spring session. These maps were based on population estimates because the Census Bureau had not yet released official census data.
But after the official 2020 census figures were released in mid-August, the House and Senate returned to session to adopt a second set of maps using the official census figures.
In both cases, the plaintiffs are now asking a federal panel of three judges to declare the cards unconstitutional under 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 ”which results in the denial of the right to vote to any citizen on the basis of their race or membership of a recognized linguistic minority group.
In their amended complaints, both groups of plaintiffs argue that while Illinois lost population overall between 2010 and 2020, the Latin American population grew by over 300,000, to just over 2 , 3 million, while the Latin American population of voting age – people 18 years of age and over – reached just over one million. This means that their overall share of the state’s population rose to 18.2%, from 15.8%, while their share of the voting-age population rose to 11.2%, from 8%.
In the spring session, Democratic lawmakers who control the General Assembly quickly passed new maps, despite lacking official census data, in order to meet a June 30 deadline in the Constitution. Illinois for the legislature to draw maps. After that, the process is turned over to a bipartisan legislative committee where Republicans would have had a 50-50 chance to control the process.
In their lawsuit, Republicans argue that because the first set of cards was unconstitutional, Democrats in fact missed the June 30 deadline, and therefore the process should still be turned over to such a commission. But federal panel judges said the issue will likely need to be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, not a federal district court.
Under Federal Court rules, defendants have 21 days, or until October 21, to respond. The two lawsuits are tentatively to be tried by the same panel of three judges in late November or early December.
The latest amended complaints come just as lawmakers are about to begin the process of drawing new congressional district maps. The House and Senate redistribution committees have scheduled a series of public hearings over the next two weeks before the fall veto session, which begins on October 19.
The House’s first hearing is scheduled for noon Thursday at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago. The first Senate hearing is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines.
Because Illinois overall lost population in the 2020 census, it will lose one of its 18 congressional districts.
Capitol News Illinois is a non-profit, non-partisan news service covering state government and distributed to over 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.