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Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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An apple a day keeps the doctor away — but how about federal judges?

Supermajority Democrats in Springfield hope so after a federal court struck down their first gerrymandered version of a new state legislative map and now will consider the constitutionality of a second gerrymandered map.

“These circumstances warrant giving the General Assembly a second bite of the apple,” a three-judge panel wrote. “Given the timing of next year’s primary, it is fortunate the General Assembly has already taken that bite.”

Maps, maps, maps. The highly sensitive nature of political maps — state legislative, congressional, judicial — has consumed Springfield and politicians statewide this year.

All versions are under partisan fire. But only state legislative maps so far have been challenged in federal court.

Supermajority Democrats passed two versions — one using population estimates and the other using official U.S. Census figures.

A three-judge panel — Michael Brennan, John DeGuilo and Robert Dow Jr. — ruled Tuesday that the June map drawn using population estimates is unconstitutional because its legislative districts vary too much in population size to pass legal muster.

Now the court turns to the map passed in September — the legislature’s “second bite of the apple” — that used census figures to eliminate population disparities.

Republicans and Hispanic and Black groups objected to both versions, arguing that each impermissibly dilutes their voting power.

The judges said they will use “the September redistricting plan as a starting point” while “carefully considering” opponents’ legal objections.

They directed challengers to “submit proposed alternative maps” that identify defects in the second map and offer alternatives that “cure such defects.”

The decision was a victory for the Black and Hispanic groups, less so for the GOP.

The court dismissed as “farfetched” a GOP proposal to order an eight-member bipartisan commission to draw new maps, the only possibility that would give Republicans a potential say in map drawing.

The GOP argued that since the first map was unconstitutional, the Legislature had failed to pass a valid plan by a required June 30 deadline. As a consequence, they argued, the Illinois Constitution mandates forming a bipartisan commission to draw new maps.

(Four of the last five state legislative maps have been drawn by a commission. In each of the four cases, the name of a Republican or Democrat was drawn out of a hat to add a ninth member to the eight-member group — four Democrats and four Republicans — and break the partisan tie vote.)

While the court found the first map unconstitutional, it held that the Legislature had passed a map by the deadline.

Democrats used population estimates to draw the first map because census figures were delayed by the pandemic. Their goal in using the estimates was to meet June 30 deadline and exclude Republicans from the redistricting process.

The judges acknowledged that Democrats sought to “avoid a commission” and secure “a partisan advantage.”

But it said while partisanship is legal, the “General Assembly may not dilute a large percentage of votes to advance a preferred political outcome.”

Democrats remain confident that their second map will pass legal muster because it eliminates the population disparities. That’s why some partisans described the first map as “moot.”

While Democrats passed the second map, they never repealed the first and continued to defend its constitutionality.

It will be interesting to review that maps that the challengers present as alternatives. Black and Hispanic groups each want more of their own majority-minority districts. They complain that their population numbers were diluted to make it easier to elect more White Democrats, a means party leaders embraced to further diminish already superminority Republicans.

While partisan advantage is a legal redistricting goal, it’s illegal to discriminate based on ethnicity. Essentially, the Black and Hispanic groups argue Democratic leaders discriminated against them to benefit White Democrats.

One factor that’s been ignored is the statutory requirement that legislative districts be “compact and contiguous.” Both maps make a joke of that mandate, with district lines being moved hither and yon to lock Blacks, Hispanics and White Republicans into areas that confer a partisan advantage to map-drawing Democrats.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at 217-393-8251 or jdey@news-gazette.com.

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