The people of Illinois want to change the state constitution so that lawmakers don't draw their own districts. House Speaker Mike Madigan is determined not to let that change happen.
Once again, a citizens' group has collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to put a proposed redistricting amendment to a vote in November. And once again, Madigan's proxy has gone to court to try to block the measure.
Independent Maps, a nonpartisan coalition, raised $3.6 million and circulated thousands of petitions because lawmakers, who could put an amendment on the ballot without spending all that time or money, refuse to do so — for obvious reasons.
Those lawmakers cannot possibly harbor any doubts that their constituents want this change. Poll after poll after poll has shown an overwhelming majority of voters support having an independent commission draw the maps. The Independent Maps campaign is the third such attempt since 2010.
The group submitted its petitions last week, assembled in a single binder as required by law. It was 35 feet thick and contained twice the required number of signatures, the better to survive the inevitable challenge before the Illinois State Board of Elections.
That's separate from the attack launched Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court. Michael Kasper, general counsel for the Illinois Democratic Party — chaired by Madigan — filed a lawsuit claiming the proposal runs afoul of the rules under which citizens can amend the constitution.
Delegates to the 1970 constitutional convention were careful not to give citizens broad power to rewrite the document. Most changes must originate through the General Assembly or at another convention. But the constitution specifically authorizes citizens to amend Article IV, which deals with the legislative branch. The framers knew lawmakers would resist changes that curbed their own powers.
The Independent Map Amendment is precisely the sort of change contemplated by the authors of the constitution. Partisan lawmakers have hijacked the once-a-decade redistricting process to serve their own interests, at voters' expense.
By manipulating the boundaries, they've rigged the maps to control the outcome of elections. That discourages competition, robs voters of choices and protects mediocre incumbents. Think we're exaggerating? All 118 seats in the Illinois House and 40 in the Senate are up for election this year. On the March 15 ballot, there were a mere 30 contested primaries.
The result is a dysfunctional General Assembly that takes its orders from party leaders, not from voters. That explains why the majority Democrats' general counsel is the go-to guy every time citizens try to wrest control of the map.
Just as he did in 2014, Kasper is arguing that the constitution — specifically the section that deals with amendments proposed by citizens — is too narrow to allow the redistricting measure.
The proposed amendment falls outside the legislative realm, supposedly, because it would assign mapmaking tasks to entities outside the General Assembly. (The plan relies on the state's auditor general to select a review panel to name the members of the redistricting commission, for example, and tweaks the Supreme Court's role in breaking a deadlock.)
Kasper also reprises arguments that an amendment must address both structural and procedural matters, and that this one doesn't change the structure of the General Assembly because the number of districts would remain unchanged. And on and on.
The language of the constitution has been twisted and tortured beyond reason by those gotcha arguments. The section that spells out how citizens can amend it might as well say that they can't.
That's the version Kasper is selling, at least. We hope the judge doesn't buy it this time.
-Chicago Tribune Editorial