(The Center Square) – A federal appellate court panel on Thursday upheld as constitutional Illinois' new legislative maps, which minority groups and Republicans challenged as racially gerrymandered.
Despite pledging during his campaign that he would not approve politically drawn maps, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law new state House and Senate districts that were passed strictly along party lines.
The first set of maps, passed in May, were based on estimates. Democrats then passed revised maps this summer after final Census data was released. No Republicans supported the new maps.
Lawsuits from separate groups, including The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the East St. Louis NAACP, were filed challenging the constitutionality of the maps in federal court, arguing they would illegally diminish minority representation in the state legislature.
A federal district court initially struck down the first maps and said the revised maps could be amended. But a three-judge federal appellate court panel said Thursday that the Democrats' maps could stand.
“We are disappointed at the three-judge court’s decision today," MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said in a statement. "In particular, we believe that the court reached conclusions about the extent of crossover voting by non-Latinos to support Latino-supported candidates that are not accurate under the law. Nonetheless, the legislatively-drawn districts will be in effect as a result of today’s decision, and MALDEF will be carefully monitoring electoral outcomes in the districts we have challenged."
In a joint statement, House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch and Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said the new maps are fair.
"From the beginning we have been guided by the goal of creating a fair map that recognizes the true diversity of the people of this great state," they said. "We appreciate that the court recognized and affirmed our efforts to ensure all communities across Illinois receive equal representation."
But MALDEF staff attorney Ernest Herrera said the decision means Latino voters will continue to be underrepresented in Springfield.
“The Court unfortunately agreed with Illinois's legislative leaders that their map was just good enough for Latino voters for technical reasons, despite the facts that Latinos remain underrepresented in the General Assembly and continue to be left behind in education, housing access, healthcare, and income," Herrera said in a statement. "Rather than provide Latinos equal opportunity to choose candidates who best represents their interests, today's decision signals to the Latinos of Illinois that they remain significantly dependent on the purported munificence of the current majority political party."
Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, who also was a party to the consolidated case, said Pritzker and legislative Democrats failed voters.
“This ruling is a disappointment, but that does not mean we will ever stop fighting for independent maps in Illinois,” Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said in a statement. “While we didn’t get the outcome we believe the people of Illinois deserve, the fact remains that Gov. Pritzker and his cronies broke their promises and failed Illinois families."