On August 25, 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a decision in Hooker, et al. v. Illinois State Board of Elections, et al., commonly known as the “Independent Maps” case. This case involved a citizen-initiated ballot initiative that was slated to appear on the November 8, 2016, ballot and would have asked the voters to weigh in on how Illinois’ legislative districts are mapped. Governor Rauner supported the ballot initiative appearing on the ballot. However, legal challenges were filed against the ballot initiative and ultimately, the Supreme Court decided that it violated the Illinois State Constitution and it would not appear on the ballot.
Article XIV of the Illinois State Constitution allows for changes to the constitution to be effected through three different methods, one of which is a ballot initiative. In May 2016, Independent Maps, the proponent of the above ballot initiative, filed a petition to place a proposed amendment to Article IV, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution to provide new methods for redistricting legislative districts in Illinois.
The redistricting system proposed by Independent Maps would have fundamentally restructured the current redistricting system. The current system essentially allows for the General Assembly to remap the legislative districts every ten years (post-census) and has been criticized at different times by members of both political parties as a tool for gerrymandering. The proposed ballot initiative would eliminate the General Assembly’s role in the process and place the primary responsibility for drawing these maps in the hands of a new “Independent Redistricting Commission” whose members would be selected by the Auditor General through a process involving very little legislative input.
After the ballot initiative was filed, a “taxpayer suit” was filed by the “People’s Map” political action committee. The suit sought to invalidate the proposed ballot initiative and to enjoin the defendants from disbursing public funds to determine the petition’s compliance with the election code. The main issues were whether the ballot initiative violates (1) Article XIV, Section 3, which provides that only “structural and procedural” changes to Article IV, Section 3 may be made this way, and (2) the “free and equal” clause (Article III, Section 3) of the Illinois Constitution.
The Illinois Supreme Court ultimately found that the proposed initiative violated the Illinois Constitution for the following reasons:
1. The proposed amendment inserted the Auditor General into the redistricting process despite the clear constitutional mandates outlining the Auditor General’s duties and responsibilities; according to the court, this amounted to more than “structural and procedural changes,” as provided in Article XIV of the Constitution; and
2. The new duties assigned to the Auditor General by the proposed amendment would change Article IV, Section 3 by adding the Auditor General to the redistricting process; according to the Court, this also went beyond procedural and structural changes.
While the Court declined to address the “free and equal” clause arguments, it acknowledged that there may be other methods to achieve redistricting but this ballot initiative. The Court even suggested that there were other nonlegislative actors capable of filling the duties outlined in this proposal or individuals that are unencumbered by the limitations in Article XIV.
The dissent disagreed with the majority's opinion. "The Illinois Constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it,” Justice Robert Thomas wrote. “Today... four members of our court have delivered, as a fait accompli, nothing less than the nullification of a critical component of the Illinois Constitution of 1970... the majority has irrevocably severed a vital lifeline created by the drafters for the express purpose of enabling later generations of Illinoisans to use their sovereign authority as a check against self-interest by the legislature.”
As is evidenced by the split court and the multiple dissenting opinions filed, this is a hot-button issue that is not likely to go away anytime soon. In fact, more redistricting petitions are currently circulating and Governor Rauner has even appeared in commercials supporting redistricting reform. The framers of the next question on redistricting, or any other constitutional change, will have to look to the letter of the law to ensure compliance and to avoid having the question being removed from the ballot.
Post Authored by Tiffany Nelson-Jaworski, Ancel Glink