Jonathan Bilyk Jul. 20, 2016, 1:02pm

A Cook County judge has, for now, blocked voters from having the chance to decide whether the state should rewrite the rules by which state lawmakers’ districts are drawn. And supporters of the proposed Independent Map Amendment said they intended to immediately take the matter to the Illinois Supreme Court.

On July 20, Cook County Circuit Judge Diane J. Larsen ruled in favor of a group of plaintiffs allied with Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who had challenged the ballot question to amend the Illinois Constitution.

The challenge to the proposed Independent Map Amendment had been filed in Cook County Circuit Court in May, shortly after the Independent Maps group had filed a petition carrying double the number of signatures needed to place the amendment before Illinois voters this November.

The amendment’s opponents, under an umbrella group known as People’s Map, were represented by Michael Kasper, an attorney with the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, of Chicago, who also serves as general counsel for the Illinois Democratic Party.

The amendment opponents argued the amendment ballot question should not be allowed because it violates the state constitution’s safeguard provisions.

The lawsuit said the amendment would “remove the authority of the democratically elected General Assembly and the Governor to enact redistricting legislation by law and replace it with a system involving the Auditor General, two members of the Supreme Court, and two new unelected government bodies.”

This would violate Article XIV of the state constitution, the lawsuit said, because it would impose new duties on the Auditor General; strip the state Supreme Court of its oversight of the redistricting process; require Supreme Court justices to declare a political affiliation; and doesn’t allow the Illinois Attorney General to sue “in the name of the People of the State of Illinois concerning redistricting.”

The lawsuit alleged the Independent Map Amendment would also violate Article III of the state constitution by presenting “separate and unrelated questions in a single ballot proposition.”

Independent Maps responded by arguing redistricting – or “apportionment,” as written in the state constitution – is “precisely the type of subject that the framers created a ballot initiative to address.” Amendment advocates added state high court decisions have confirmed this interpretation.

They said the amendment would not be a “collection of disparate provisions relating to matters scattered throughout the Constitution.” Instead, the proposed changes have a “common thread,” directly related to redistricting.

While Larsen conceded previous legal precedent theoretically would allow a citizen initiative to reform the state’s legislative districting process, she still said the amendment opponents were correct and the Independent Map group’s arguments to the contrary were “unavailing.”

The judge said the amendment cannot assign new duties to Illinois’ Auditor General or to Supreme Court justices, nor can it remove duties and privileges assigned by the current constitutional text to the state Supreme Court – which now holds exclusive power to review such redistricting plans – or the Illinois Attorney General, who holds exclusive privilege to challenge state redistricting maps.

And, the judge said, the amendment introduces too many “separate and unrelated” questions.

“The fact that parts of the Redistricting Initiative involve 1) state officials other than in the legislature, 2) the circuit court’s jurisdiction, and 3) the method of challenging a redistricting plan, makes these questions significant individually and unrelated to redistricting itself,” Larsen wrote.

In a prepared statement following Larsen’s ruling, Independent Maps Chairman Dennis FitzSimons said the group intended to file an expedited appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“We are disappointed that Judge Larsen has ruled against the Independent Map Amendment and the 564,000 Illinois residents who signed a petition to change a broken system and eliminate the inherent conflict of interest where politicians draw their own legislative districts,” FitzSimons said in the release. “We expected from the beginning of this effort that the issue would ultimately be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court.

“We believe that the Illinois Supreme Court will side with Illinois voters and not deny citizens the opportunity to vote on this amendment.”

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