By Jim Nowlan
As expected, the federal court in Chicago washed its hands last week of the new, grotesque Illinois House and Senate districts, saying it’s the business of the state of Illinois to create the districts. Thus, supremely confident that the Democrat majority on the Illinois Supreme Court would uphold whatever their partisan colleagues wrought, the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. J. B. Pritzker pushed voters down the rabbit hole into Alice’s Wonderland, where pigs fly, black is white, and nothing is as it seems. Let me explain.
The Illinois Constitution of 1970 states prominently in two places that state legislative districts are to be “compact and contiguous.” A box is compact; so is a circle. Districts cannot be perfectly compact, of course, but you get the idea. This is helpful, as such district boundaries are likely to be comprehensible to voters and contain communities of like interests.
Now, look closely at the map of the new House districts (nearby), especially in metropolitan Chicago. Tell me: Compact? See the slithering, snake-like districts that reach out from Chicago, like arthritic fingers, to pick up enough voters to comprise a district, yet still reelect incumbent Democrats. Look at the district that runs along the lakefront, thin as a string! I’ll bet you can identify 20 or more districts that would qualify as antonyms of the word compact.
How could this be, when the Illinois Constitution is so clear? First, both parties have become justifiably cynical about the 4-3 Democratic majority on the Illinois Supreme Court and its slavish support for its political party leadership, no matter what our state constitution might dictate. So, the Democrats in the legislature, with their supermajorities, made a game of redistricting: Let’s see how many districts we can draw that will elect more of our guys, and how many Republican incumbents we can discomfit by bunching them into the same district—all without any regard to compactness!
Alas, the small band of GOP legislators (but 16 out of 59 in the state Senate) threw up their hands, pretty certain the Illinois Supreme Court would simply declare black to be white, that is, compact to mean slithering snakes or arthritic fingers.
These slithering districts didn’t have to be. In 2016, more than half a million of us voters signed petitions to ask all voters if they would prefer to have an independent commission draw district lines (in surveys, about 80 percent of voters liked the idea). The Illinois Constitution indeed provides for amending its charter for such purposes, and delegates to the 1970 convention specifically mentioned redistricting as an element that could be amended.
But No! Just before the proposition was to go onto the ballot, the Illinois Supreme Court, in a 4 Democrat-3 Republican decision, declared that the initiative was unconstitutional. The opinion was written by a court member who had received millions in campaign contributions from disgraced House speaker and party boss Mike Madigan, a virulent opponent of independent redistricting. The opinion was the most disgraceful piece of jurisprudence in modern history!!
Yet, you and I now have an opportunity to begin to set things right. We can take back the court! That is, voters in two of the state’s five supreme court districts have an opportunity this fall to elect new court justices who will be independent of partisan control from Chicago. This would take control of the court away from Chicago/Cook County Democrats for the first time in 60 years.
In Illinois, as in Alice’s Wonderland, pigs fly. But you and I can bring them down to earth.