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Dems say court remap reflects population shifts; GOP call it power grab

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SPRINGFIELD — Partisan outrage over new proposed district lines for the Illinois Supreme Court was on full display Friday in the Illinois General Assembly.

The House passed the court remap legislation by 72-45 vote. It passed the Senate 41-18 shortly after that, leading Republicans to call for a veto from Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Legislative Republicans denounced Democrats for dropping the latest version of the judicial map late Thursday night and scheduling new redistricting committee hearings an hour before those committees were held at 9:30 a.m. Friday. The second map is nearly identical to the first judicial map draft released on Tuesday.

Democrats maintain that Illinois Supreme Court redistricting is needed because those districts have remained unchanged since the early 1960s.

They claim that major population changes in the five judicial districts justify a new Illinois Supreme Court map, in order to comply with the state constitution's requirement that the four districts outside of Cook County have “substantially equal population.”

“It’s been nearly 60 years,” said Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, who sponsored the court redistricting bill. “This is about the constitution. That's it.”

Tarver, however, said he did not draw the maps, did not know who drew the maps, and did not know how the lines were drawn.

Republicans said they believe the new map is motivated primarily by the election loss of Democratic Justice Thomas Kilbride, who was not retained by voters in the November 2020 election.

Kilbride’s failure to earn the 60% of the vote needed to gain retention in the 3rd District is the first time in Illinois Supreme Court history that a sitting justice lost a retention election.

During floor debate on the map Friday, Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, an Elmhurst Republican, described the Democrats’ new judicial map as “the Democratic Party's efforts to manipulate the Illinois Supreme Court, as they've done in every other branch of government” in response to Kilbride’s loss.

Rep. Ryan Spain, a Peoria Republican who is a member of the House Redistricting Committee, echoed Mazzochi’s claims.

“In the state of Illinois, not only do we allow politicians to pick their voters, but through this bill, we're going to let judges do it too,” he said.

Currently, the court has a 4-3 Democratic majority. After Kilbride lost his retention election, the justices appointed Democrat Robert Carter to fill his seat.

The three Republican justices hail from the 2nd, 4th and 5th districts.

The new map redraws the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th districts, which each have one elected justice. Three justices are elected from the 1st District, which spans Cook County.

The proposed map extends the 4th District, which currently runs across central Illinois from Kankakee County to the Quad Cities, to absorb counties within the current 2nd District and 3rd District.

For example, the new 4th District would gain Peoria County and the Quad Cities region, which are both currently in the 3rd District. It would also acquire Winnebago County and DuPage County, which are currently in the 2nd District.

The 5th District, which currently spans more than 30 counties downstate, would gain Champaign County and Macon County, which were previously within the 4th District.

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The new map was drafted using American Community Survey data, as well as election data, according to Tarver. ACS data is less precise and detailed than the U.S. Census Bureau data, which is delayed because of the pandemic.

Republicans also took issue with the Democrats’ claim that the new proposed judicial map will not impact the appellate court justices because the appellate courts share district boundaries with the Illinois Supreme Court.

Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, said he was concerned the new map could affect the number of appellate court justices within a certain district, and it could conflict with current law that sets the number of appellate justices in a district.

Republicans said the lack of hearings and public feedback on the Supreme Court remap was a serious flaw of the proposal as well.

Spain said he and his colleagues asked multiple times during discussion of legislative maps if they would also be reviewing other aspects of redistricting, including Supreme Court maps, but he was never told that those maps would be considered.

“I really do think that transparency is important. I think that it is valuable to receive public input on the decisions that we're making here. We did not give the public any reasonable effort to get engaged with this topic. And now here we are at the end of May, holding a hearing at the 11th hour,” Spain said.


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