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 rehearing petition.
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 stifled.”
“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 muster.
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 majority opinion.
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 constitutional amendments.
“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 wrote.
“If the majority believes that such is not the case, it should take this opportunity on rehearing to explain why.”