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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Court of Appeals Finds Reapportioned Ward Map Constitutional

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld the City of Chicago Heights' reapportionment map of its aldermanic districts against a challenge that the map was unconstitutional. McCoy v. Chicago Heights Election Commission,

In 1987, a class of African-American plaintiffs sued the City and the Chicago Heights Park District claiming that the City and Park District's methods for electing representatives diluted their voting rights. Early in the litigation, these election practices were found to violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the parties entered into various consent decrees. The most recent consent decree, entered in 2010, established a 7-ward single aldermanic form of government, and included a ward map that complied with applicable constitutional requirements. The decree required the City to reapportion wards as population changed.

In 2014, the City sought court approval of a reapportioned map that included population changes from the 2010 census results. Plaintiffs objected to the proposed map, and after various hearings, the court approved the reapportioned map. 

Plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit, asking the court of appeals to reverse the district court's approval of the reapportioned ward map. The plaintiffs also argued that the district court should have considered plaintiffs' own proposed map.

The Seventh Circuit rejected the plaintiffs' arguments, and upheld the reapportioned ward map approved by the district court. The Seventh Circuit first held that the local government has the responsibility to prepare and submit a reapportioned ward map and the district court did not err in refusing to consider plaintiffs' proposed map. Next, the Court addressed plaintiffs' argument that the City's map violated the Equal Protection clause. The Court noted that the Constitution does not require "exact mathematical precision" in drawing voting district boundaries, but does require a government to make an "honest and good-faith effort to construct its districts as nearly of equal population as is practicable." Any deviation of less than 10% is presumptively constitutional. Any deviation greater than 10% requires the government to present justifications for the deviation.

In this case, the City's map had an overall deviation of 12%, so the district court held a hearing to allow the City to present its justifications. The City presented evidence to support the deviation, including the City's consideration of historical ward boundaries, natural boundaries of major thoroughfares in drawing the ward map. The district court had accepted the City's justifications in approving the ward map, and the Seventh Circuit agreed that the map satisfied the constitutional principle of "one person, one vote." 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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