17 Illinois lawmakers ask Supreme Court to 'repair' redistricting

17 Illinois lawmakers ask Supreme Court to 'repair' redistricting

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 17 Illinois state legislators is part of a contingent of lawmakers from various states asking the U.S. Supreme Court to "repair the damage partisan gerrymandering has done to the political process."

The Illinois lawmakers, including three Republican state senators from East Central Illinois, are among nearly two dozen groups that have filed amicus briefs in the Wisconsin redistricting case, Whitford v. Gill, that the court is expected to take up in October.

The 17 Illinois legislators who are listed among 65 current and former state legislators from around the country include Republican state Sens. Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Dale Righter of Mattoon and Bill Brady of Bloomington, as well as two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Heather Steans of Chicago and Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood.

Their amicus brief filed Tuesday by a New York City law firm says that only the Supreme Court can "redress the damage done" by the partisan drawing of representative district maps.

The court, the brief says, "has the ability to craft a nationwide standard that will put partisan gerrymanderers in check. The court is therefore in the best position to repair the damage partisan gerrymandering has done to the political process throughout the nation."

Rose, who said he was invited to be a part of the group because of his involvement in Illinois' last redistricting process, said he thinks a favorable court decision could be used to overturn the current Illinois legislative district map.

"That's one possibility, and that's what all of us around the country who signed it are hoping for," the Mahomet Republican said. "The problem today is that there are very few guidelines. There are guidelines around the Civil Rights Act, and there are guidelines around the U.S. Constitution equal protection clause, and there are guidelines of (maps being) compact, contiguous and including communities of interest.

"But historically, it's been to the victor goes the spoils," meaning that those in the legislative majority can draw a map that is more favorable to their party.

In Illinois, the brief filed Tuesday says, that meant that in the 2012 elections Democrats won 60 percent of all House seats and 68 percent of Senate seats even though statewide they won just 52 percent of the vote in House elections and 54 percent in Senate elections.

The brief from the state legislators claims that partisan gerrymandering breeds polarization among lawmakers and discourages bipartisanship.

"Candidates in safe, gerrymandered districts are bound to appeal to primary voters who tend to be further from the ideological center. Once a candidate is selected as the party's standard-bearer, the fix is in," the brief said. "In the general election, members of the majority party reliably support their party's candidate, and candidates in safe districts therefore need not and do not temper their views."

In such situations, they said, cross-party voting is relatively uncommon, "and the smart candidate understands that his political fortunes depend on responsiveness to the 30 percent (of the total electorate) needed to win the primary — and nothing else."

Partisan gerrymandering also can mean dividing so-called "communities of interest," the legislators said in their brief, citing an Illinois House district drawn to link Democratic areas in east Springfield and west Decatur, 40 miles apart. The district is represented by Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur.

"Decatur dominates the district, burdening voters in Springfield and the rural areas," the amicus brief said. "By drawing lines that divide communities to achieve political power, however, map-drawers leave community interest by the wayside."

In addition to the amicus brief by the current and former legislators, a host of groups and politicians are asking the court to overturn Wisconsin's legislative map and limit partisan gerrymandering. They include the ACLU, NAACP, the Brennan Center for Justice, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse, Common Cause, a bipartisan group of current and former members of Congress (none from Illinois) and groups of law professors, historians and political science professors.

"The fight for fair maps has been a fight of strange bedfellows," Rose said. "The state version of this, which I supported (known as the Independent Map Amendment), had some wildly disparate groups like the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce on one side and the leftist League of Women Voters on the other side.

"That's just it. People know this doesn't work. When you get 500,000 citizens to sign the last petition in Illinois to put this on the ballot to change our Constitution, you know you're onto something."