League of Women Voters files lawsuit over Illinois redistricting

2011-08-16T11:56:00Z 2011-08-17T12:53:30Z League of Women Voters files lawsuit over Illinois redistrictingBy Kurt Erickson | kurt.erickson@lee.net pantagraph.com

SPRINGFIELD -- A second lawsuit has been filed seeking to toss out new legislative maps that were drawn solely by Democrats.

In a 13-page complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Chicago, the League of Women Voters of Illinois alleges the new district lines were drawn with too much partisan influence.

That, they said, will leave voters will little choice on Election Day.

"The longstanding Illinois practice of assigning voters to districts based on their political views and voting histories violates the First Amendment rights of our members and others throughout Illinois," said League President Jan Dorner.

The lawsuit is the second to be filed in the wake of Gov. Pat Quinn signing off on the new maps in June.

Top Illinois Republicans filed suit last month seeking to overturn the new maps after they were largely shut out of the once-per-decade redistricting process this spring.

The GOP suit alleges the new boundaries place more than two dozen incumbent Republican lawmakers into districts with one another, potentially causing a number of them to lose their re-election bids in 2012.

The League of Women Voters had worked with Republicans last year to develop a new map-making system designed to remove partisanship from the process, but the proposal was not adopted.

With Democrats in control of state government, Democrats were able to design the boundaries without GOP input.

In a statement, the League said gerrymandering by both parties has resulted in districts that tilt to one political party, leaving voters with little choice on Election Day.

Instead of one party or the other controlling the process, the organization wants an impartial decision-maker to draw new boundary lines.

Key in their arguments is language within the map-making legislation approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by Quinn. The proposals specifically identify the partisan make-up of a particular district as a factor in where the lines were placed.

In addition, they cited testimony from House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, in which she said partisanship does play a role in the drawing of House and Senate districts.

"By considering the partisan composition of the districts and the political competitiveness of election campaigns in such districts, the General Assembly is unlawfully attempting to control or influence the kinds of views, opinions and speech that residents placed in those districts are likely to express or hear and receive," the suit notes.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said he supports the lawsuit.

"We agree with the League of Women Voters and in fact make a similar allegation in the lawsuit we filed recently that the Democrats improperly used political numbers to gerrymander the highly partisan legislative maps," Cross said in a statement. "We also agree that the current system of drawing maps is flawed and have supported efforts to take the map-drawing out of the hands of legislators from the get-go."

Quinn told reporters Tuesday that the maps he signed off on are legal.

"I looked at both maps in a very careful way and made a decision they were fair," Quinn said. "We're happy to defend that work in any court in the land."

Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, also defended the map-making process used by Democrats.

"As always, one party is was responsible for taking the input of citizens and public interest groups to draft maps," Phelon said in an email. "This time it was Democrats, and we took the opportunity to make it the most open and transparent process in recent history. "

(Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043)


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