CHICAGO (AP) - The question of whether a ballot measure allowing an independent commission to draw Illinois' political boundaries is constitutional unfolded in oral arguments Thursday in a Chicago courtroom. Here's a snapshot of the initiative:
THE BALLOT QUESTION
Members of the Independent Maps coalition say the way Illinois decides its legislative boundaries is too political and doesn't serve voters. The well-funded group of businessmen and voting rights advocates are fighting a lawsuit, saying they've fine-tuned their proposal after a similar push in 2014 didn't meet constitutional muster.
Instead of the current method of allowing elected officials in Democratic-leaning Illinois to draw maps, the ballot initiative would ask voters to endorse a complex process putting an 11-member commission in charge. Their proposed system — with the first commission appointed in 2021 — would involve the auditor general, bipartisan leaders from the state House and Senate, a random drawing and, if necessary, members of the Illinois Supreme Court.
The nearly two-hour hearing highlighted arguments made through legal documents since May when a lawsuit was filed on behalf of minority groups arguing the measure wasn't constitutional.
Opponents said the plan doesn't meet a requirement that petition-driven changes to the state Legislature have a narrow scope of being "structural and procedural." They argued the initiative has a ripple effect on other parts of government by adding duties for the auditor general and Supreme Court members, along with restricting the attorney general's power to bring legal action.
Independent Maps' lawyers countered by saying since legislative districts are the "building blocks of the General Assembly," redistricting is by its nature structural and procedural.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane Larsen said she'd issue a written opinion by July 21. During the proceedings, her only questions were about the provision for two Supreme Court members of different political parties to appoint a special commissioner to take over mapmaking if the commission can't agree.
Independent Maps is made up of voter access groups, businessmen and leaders, including former Tribune Co. Chairman Dennis FitzSimons, Republican former Gov. Jim Edgar and former White House chief of staff Bill Daley. Their attorneys are former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Michele Odorizzi, who clerked for retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
On the other side is Michael Kasper, who has represented top Illinois Democrats, including Michael Madigan, the nation's longest-serving state House speaker. Kasper represents minority business and community groups who call themselves the People's Map and say the current mapping process protects minority representation, though that idea wasn't mentioned in court.
After the hearing, FitzSimons noted Kasper's ties to Democrats and claimed the lawsuit was an effort by "entrenched interests" to prevent the ballot question. Kasper declined comment.
The Illinois State Board of Elections says the roughly 560,000 signatures the group collected for the ballot question — nearly double the requirement — appear valid. If Larsen determines the lawsuit is constitutional, state election officials have said they'll certify it for November general election ballot. However, a possible appeal could complicate things. Election officials face an Aug. 26 deadline to certify the ballot.
Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.