Supreme Court Decision Opens Door to Fair Legislative Maps in Illinois

Since the Illinois Constitution was adopted in 1970, state lawmakers have presented themselves to the voters within legislative districts drawn by a partisan process controlled by one political party. Since 2001, the Democrats’ control over drawing the legislative maps has been extremely valuable for them, and increasing use of computer software to draw these key boundaries has meant this advantage has grown over time. In the November 2014 election, the voters of Illinois voted a Republican, Bruce Rauner, into the governor’s office by a wide margin – but the same voters found that after they had cast their votes within these artificially drawn districts, they had elected supermajorities of Democrats to both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate.

A growing number of Illinois political observers, in both parties, are pushing to move this key mapmaking function out of the hands of partisan politicians and into the control of a politically independent redistricting commission. Similar commissions have successfully reduced the role of mapmaker-politicians in states such as Arizona and California. On Monday, June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision upholding the constitutionality of the independent redistricting process when drawing maps for elections to Congress.

The high court’s verdict opens the door to a renewed push to create fair maps in Illinois. The Chicago Tribune published an editorial this week in favor of the proposed Illinois Independent Map Amendment, an amendment to the state Constitution that would change the way we draw maps for districts and members of the Illinois General Assembly. The current mapmaking process has played a key role in maintaining the influence of Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who was first elected to the Illinois State House’s highest chair in January 1983. Thirty-two years later, he is still there – the highest-seniority state legislative political boss in American history.