CHICAGO – After a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting Pennsylvania Republicans' attempt to redraw that state's congressional districts, an organization dedicated toward reforming how Illinois draws its legislative districts, which are currently skewed to favor Democrats, says the decision could help spur reform in other states, including Illinois, both legislatively and in the courts.
In late October, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court's decision invalidating a GOP-drawn map that map opponents said gave Republicans 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats. The Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court then prevented Pennsylvania Republicans from redrawing the map, and instead substituted one on their own, which Republicans said, in turn, improperly tipped the balance in favor of Democrats
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision caught the attention of anti-gerrymander proponents in other states, including Illinois, given the similarity between voting rights language in other states' constitutions and that of Pennsylvania, which was used by the Pennsylvania court to justify its decision to thwart the Republican majority's proposals.
Jeff Raines, a spokesman for Change Illinois, a coalition of political reform groups dedicated to bringing redistricting reform to Illinois, told the Cook County Record that a "momentum is clearly growing," after SCOTUS took several actions regarding redistricting in recent months, adding that "with the Supreme Court punting on partisan gerrymandering earlier this year, it has only invigorated state-led efforts to use ballot initiatives and legislative pathways to pass reforms until some of these cases inevitably make it back up to the high court."
Raines Change Illinois
The recent decisions regarding gerrymandering have been helping Change Illinois shape its reform strategies, Raines said.
"In not addressing the problem, the Supreme Court decisions have allowed our coalition to narrow and refine our own strategy. While we were never just waiting around for the court to rule, now we can just focus on getting the public fired up about our legislative work and getting candidates for office on the record about fair maps," Raines said.
When asked about the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Pennsylvania redistricting, Raines said the court's take "certainly looks like a promising pathway for future litigation efforts in other states," as the decision was "unique in focusing on the state constitution instead of the U.S. Constitution or other federal law."
The fact that the court declined the case "could lead to other states – especially those that have more limited ways to seek out reform – to turn to their own state constitutions to guide their efforts," Raines said.
When asked if Change Illinois could similarly challenge Illinois' partisan maps, Raines said that "that's something our coalition is looking into," as the similarities made "the idea appealing." But, he added, given the response from Illnois judges and the Illinois Supreme Court to two prior attempts to amend the Illinois state constitution to curtail gerrymandering activities, "we're going to make sure we have all our ducks in a row before making any decisions."
Change Illinois believes, Raines said, that "passing legislation or a constitutional amendment would be the best way to prevent either party from unfairly controlling the process in 2020."
"Our state is best served when our maps are drawn to encourage competition and keep communities together," Raines said. "Voters of all political stripes recognize this - it's the party leaders that refuse to. Gerrymandering is already an issue that has brought Democratic, Republican and independent voters to table in search of solution.
"Now it's just getting enough voters involved to definitively prove to Springfield that we're not backing down until the problem is fixed," Raines said.