After the Illinois Supreme Court voted 4-3 to toss the
measure from the November ballot, the backers of a proposed constitutional amendment
to rewrite the rules under which Illinois draws the districts from which its
lawmakers are elected have indicated they have not yet decided whether to seek
a rehearing before the state’s high court on the matter.
On Thursday, Aug. 25, a narrow majority of the Illinois
Supreme Court ruled the proposed so-called Independent Map Amendment failed to
meet constitutional muster and refused to allow the people of Illinois the
chance to vote on the measure, which supporters said was needed to reform a
system that allows those already in power to use legislative mapmaking to
strengthen their hold on power and block any meaningful change in Illinois
Justice Thomas Kilbride wrote the opinion of the majority.
Justices Anne M. Burke, Charles Freeman and Mary Jane Theis concurred in the
opinion. Before winning election to the state Supreme Court, all four justices
in the majority had affiliated with the Democratic Party. Three of the four are
from the court’s First District, which solely encompasses Cook County.
The ruling came as the result of an appeal filed by
Independent Map supporters after a Cook County judge had first ruled the ballot
question unconstitutional, saying it violated safeguard provisions in the
The amendment, which has been supported by Republican
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and more than 500,000 other Illinois voters who
signed petitions to place the matter on the fall 2016 ballot, would have
stripped the General Assembly of the power to draw their own legislative
districts, and would vest that power in a new commission empaneled every 10
Opponents of the measure, which included a number of allies
of Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and were represented by
Michael Kasper, an attorney with the firm of Hinshaw Culbertson, who also
serves as general counsel for the Illinois Democratic Party, filed suit in Cook
County court to challenge the amendment.
They argued the proposed methods by which the members of
that commission would be selected violated the constitution, as they imposed
new duties on the state’s Auditor General and the Illinois Supreme Court, among
others. This is impermissible, they said, because the state constitution limits
citizen-initiated amendments only to “structural and procedural” questions
concerning the General Assembly.
Amendment supporters, however, argued the measure passed
constitutional muster because it addressed just one question: How the state
redraws district lines. They noted the language in the constitution pertaining
to redistricting already imposed duties related to redistricting on the Supreme
Court and the Illinois Attorney General, making them fair game, should the
amendment either impose new duties related to redistricting or remove existing
ones. In this case, the amendment would have removed language permitting only
the Attorney General to challenge a legislative map.
Cook County Circuit Judge Diane J. Larsen agreed with opponents,
however, striking the measure and prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court.
In its decision, the majority focused on a single question:
The power and duties of the state’s Auditor General. The majority opinion said,
by requiring the Auditor General to participate in the vetting and selection of
members of a proposed independent mapmaking commission, the proposed amendment imposes
new duties on a constitutional officer.
Since the Auditor General’s constitutional duties are
contained in an article of the constitution separate from the article which
establishes and governs the state’s legislative branch, the majority reasoned
the amendment doesn’t pass muster.
Because the amendment failed on this question, the majority
declined to weigh in on the other challenges. The majority also refused to
provide any examples of a redistricting “scheme” that could be considered
The majority opinion drew sharp rebukes from the other three
Justice Lloyd Karmeier filed the official dissent. But Chief
Justice Rita B. Garman and Justice Robert Thomas also filed dissents of their
own. Each of these justices had previously affiliated as Republicans.
Karmeier said the majority decision has effectively made it
impossible for the people of Illinois to initiate any kind of meaningful reform
of Illinois’ redistricting regime.
Karmeier said the Independent Map proposal should have been
allowed, as it focused on a single question – how the legislature’s districts
are drawn – the rules for which are contained solely in the article within the
constitution subject to such amendments, and which happen to already impose
duties on the Supreme Court and other constitutional officers.
He said additional duties imposed on the Auditor General
also “poses no constitutional problem,” as the additional duties would still
relate only to redistricting and wouldn’t alter the Auditor General’s existing
duties, as spelled out in the constitution.
“Nothing in the 1970 Constitution requires that all of a
constitutional officer’s responsibilities be set out in a single article, and
such is certainly not the case with respect to the redistricting-related duties
of this court and the Attorney General under the current redistricting
mechanism,” Karmeier said.
While the majority declared it believed redistricting reform
could be accomplished within “constitutional confines,” Karmeier said any future
attempts to alter the process “would fail just as this one has failed and for
the same reasons” – namely, that changing the redistricting process would
inevitably draw in the other constitutional officers who have duties related to
redistricting, and that the courts would then declare such proposals
unconstitutional because they touch on the duties of those other constitutional
officers and other branches of government.
“Because all of the current actors in the process also have
roles outside of the redistricting process, any proposed change in the cast of
characters or any significant alteration of their responsibilities would, by
plaintiffs’ logic, mean that the proposal was not limited to a structural and
procedural subject of article IV and was therefore beyond the constitutionally
authorized scope of the ballot initiative process,” Karmeier wrote. “The potential for a redistricting commission
comprised entirely of nonlegislative members, first expressed during the
constitutional convention … would be lost.
“The only changes that would be permissible would be those
of the most limited and inconsequential type, and the only tools available for
revision of the redistricting provisions in article VI, section 3, would be
those already present in those provisions. If all that can be done is rearrange
the pieces, it is difficult to see how meaningful reform could ever be
Thomas’ language was even more pointed in his special
“The majority’s decision to quash (the Independent Map
ballot initiative) is no less than the death knell of article XIV, section 3’s
promise of direct democracy as a check on legislative self-interest,” Thomas
wrote. “Today a muzzle has been placed on the people of this State, and their
voices supplanted with judicial fiat.
“The whimper you hear is democracy stifled.”
Following the ruling, the Independent Map group said it was
deciding whether to see a rehearing of the case before the state Supreme Court.
But it said the decision, by focusing on a single phrase in
the constitution, ran counter to the essence of the citizen ballot amendment
initiative process itself.
"Drafters of the Illinois Constitution would not recognize the interpretation made by the Supreme Court majority," said Dennis FitzSimons, chairman of the Independent Maps organization, in a prepared statement. "According to the majority, voters cannot propose sensible changes to the legislative article that would make a meaningful difference in the way legislative district boundaries are drawn.
"In short, the system is broken and the way this court interprets the constitution seems likely to prevent its repair."