Saying the Illinois Supreme Court
missed out on an opportunity to provide helpful guidance to citizens seeking to
exercise their constitutional rights, as well as to more fully explain its decision
in light of longstanding precedent, the man who will serve as the court’s next
chief justice, together with two of his colleagues on the state high court, teed
off on the court majority’s decision to simply deny a request to rehear
arguments over a proposed amendment intended to rewrite the ways Illinois draws
the districts from which voters select the state’s lawmakers.
“Without the critical clarification
that rehearing would provide, the majority’s disposition not only fails to
provide a road map, it erects a roadblock that seems insurmountable,” wrote
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier.
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, Karmeier
issued a dissent that was promised a week earlier when the court denied the
petition by the group known as Independent Maps for a rehearing on the constitutionality
of the group’s redistricting reform provision.
Current Chief Justice Rita B.
Garman and Justice Robert Thomas joined Karmeier in his critique of the
majority’s general silence to the arguments spelled out in the Independent Maps
In August, the Illinois Supreme
Court shot down the attempt by Independent Maps to allow Illinois voters the
chance to change the state’s constitution to
vest redistricting power in a new commission empaneled every 10 years, wresting control of the redistricting
process from the Illinois General Assembly – and particularly from the majority
party leaders who wield enormous power in the state’s legislative chambers. Critics contend current rules allow majority party leaders, like Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, to draw district boundaries in ways that trample on local interests, communities and constituencies to increase majority numbers and power.
More than 500,000 Illinois residents
had signed petitions circulated by Independent Maps to place the question before
voters on the November ballot.
However, the ballot measure was
immediately challenged in court by a group whose ranks included many connected
with the Illinois Democratic Party – which holds large majorities in both the
Illinois state House and Senate - and Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
That group was represented in court by attorney Michael Kasper, who also serves
as general counsel for the Illinois Democrats.
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.
The legal challenge held sway in
both Cook County Circuit Court, before Circuit Judge Diane J. Larsen, and on appeal
when it landed before the Illinois Supreme Court.
In that decision, the court’s
four Democratic justices ruled the amendment’s attempt to bestow new duties
upon the Auditor General, indeed, violated the constitutional requirements
limiting citizen-initiated amendment attempts.
In blistering dissents, the court’s
three Republican justices said the majority had too narrowly construed the
provisions they offered as justification for striking down the amendment attempt.
At that time, Thomas wrote the
decision had effectively placed a “muzzle … on the people of this State,” had
preserved no meaningful “check on legislative self-interest” and had left “democracy
“If all that can be done is rearrange the
pieces, it is difficult to see how meaningful reform could ever be
accomplished,” Karmeier wrote in his dissent at that time.
Following the decision,
Independent Maps petitioned for a rehearing, arguing the court’s majority owed
it to the people to more fully address the amendment beyond the question
pertaining to the Auditor General. Independent Maps also asked the court to at
least help the people understand what kind of amendment might actually pass
However, the court simply denied
that rehearing request, without any further comment.
This perceived silence drew the
ire of Karmeier, who the court this week announced would serve as the court’s
next chief justice beginning in late October.
In his dissent to the rehearing
denial, Karmeier suggested the majority denied the rehearing simply to avoid
having to counter the legal points he raised in his original dissent to the
He said he believed “the majority
would have considerable difficulty doing so,” as Illinois case law addressed a
similar topic. Karmeier pointed to the 1906 decision in City of Chicago v.
Reeves, in which the court at the time ruled an amendment to the state
constitution at the time, pertaining to changes in local government in Chicago,
should be allowed, even though it altered the duties of other state offices.
At that time, Karmeier noted, the Illinois
Supreme Court ruled “…the fact that articles of the constitution other than the
article expressly amended are changed does not render the express amendment
invalid by reason of the fact that other articles of the constitution are
changed to bring the constitution into a harmonious whole.”
He said the Independent Maps
amendment should have been evaluated in light of the Reeves precedent, which
limits review to the question of whether all of the changes would apply to only
the same subject matter.
“The object sought to be
accomplished by Independent Maps’ proposed amendment is an overhaul of the
current mechanism for carrying out redistricting, which is unquestionably a
structural and procedural subject of article IV,” Karmeier wrote. “None of the
proposed changes, including inclusion of the Auditor General, can possibly be
dismissed as ‘unconnected’ or ‘entirely foreign’ to that objective.”
Karmeier said the majority should
have granted the rehearing to more fully explain why Reeves should not apply.
“Rather than taking the
opportunity to speak up and explain why it believes the initiative proposed by
Independent Maps here must nevertheless be rejected, the majority simply said,
without comment, ‘denied,’” Karmeier said.
He also lit into the majority for
refusing to offer any guidance to the people of Illinois, even as the majority
declared confidence “that some alternative plan” impacting other constitutional
officers outside the General Assembly “could be formulated that would meet the
requirements of article XIV, section 3,” which governs citizen-initiated
“But Independent Maps, in its
petition for rehearing, succinctly and correctly points out that the majority’s
approach would preclude the assignment of any new role in the redistricting
process to any nonlegislative actor, not just the Auditor General, because any
such changes would be barred by precisely the same barriers erected by the
majority to rationalize invalidation of the proposal advanced here,” Karmeier
“If the majority believes that
such is not the case, it should take this opportunity on rehearing to explain