Judges reject NAACP map plan

SPRINGFIELD – A three-judge federal panel has rejected proposed changes for three new Illinois legislative districts, including one involving State Representative Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.

The redistribution maps, presented to the General Assembly by Democrats earlier this year, have been challenged in court by the NAACP lawsuit, as well as lawsuits brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and both main Republican leaders in the General Assembly, Sen. Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, and Representative Jim Durkin, of Western Springs.

The first set of maps, adopted in May, were based on population estimates. Democrats passed revised maps this summer after the release of final census data. A federal district court initially overturned the first maps, but said revised maps could be changed. A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court said on Thursday the cards could be kept.

The decision will allow state legislative candidates to begin circulating petitions on January 13 for a place in the June 28 primary ballot. Lawmakers had postponed the traditional March primary due to delays in federal census results.

The NAACP in East St. Louis had argued that because of the redistribution, the black areas in and around the city that could have constituted a majority black district were deliberately divided and divided into separate districts of the House to protect two white incumbent Democrats. Other parties to their action included the Lawyers ‘Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Cooley LLP on behalf of the East St. Louis branch of the NAACP, the State Conference of the ‘Illinois of the NAACP and the United States. Congress of community and religious organizations.

His filing was for the 112th currently held by Stuart; the 113th, a safe Democratic district currently held by Representative Jay Hoffman, of Swansea; and the 114th, currently held by Representative LaToya Greenwood. They proposed to reconfigure the three districts to make the 114th district a majority black district.

They argued that there was a long history of racial discrimination against blacks in East St. Louis and surrounding communities since blacks began to settle there in the early part of the 20th century in search of employment. industrial. This culminated in race riots in 1917 which led to the murder of “untold numbers of black men and women,” according to their file.

Over the past 10 years, they said, the area has experienced a “seismic loss” in population and a shift of its black population from eastern St. Louis to the surrounding suburbs, resulting in increasingly racial races. competitive in some districts.

They claimed Democrats in the General Assembly moved large numbers of black voters, who tend to vote heavily Democrats, from Hoffman District to Stuart District, and then replaced those voters by moving large numbers of voters. black voters from Greenwood to Hoffman and moving large numbers of mostly white voters from other districts to Greenwood.

The judges rejected the NAACP’s arguments, saying instead that the decision was made to consolidate the white Democratic districts of the Downstate in rural areas where Republican strength is increasing. Political gerrymandering, while controversial, is legal, they said

“It is very disappointing that in 2021 black residents of East St. Louis do not get justice today from our legal system,” said Rod Wilson, executive director of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations. “The courts have ruled to support partisan gerrymandering over their legal obligation to defend and protect the voting rights of black voters.”

Teresa Haley, president of the Illinois State Conference of the NAACP, said her organization was “disappointed” by the panel’s decision but that it “would continue to fight for freedom and justice for all “. She encouraged people to stay engaged, involved “and stay on the battlefield.”

“Despite the court ruling, we are proud to bring the voices and experiences of black voters in East St. Louis to the table,” said Damon Hewitt, chairman and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“We are nevertheless disappointed with the court’s decision,” he said. “It’s clear that Illinois lawmakers intentionally diluted the voting power of a cohesive black community, allowing their partisan political interests to trump the votes of black voters. This decision is part of a dangerous turning point in legal precedent which essentially allows racial discrimination to pass itself off as partisanship in order to pass the test of justice. “

The three lawsuits had named Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Speaker of the Senate Don Harmon and the Illinois State Council of Elections, as well as its individual members, as accused. They had sought to prevent the Illinois State Council of Elections from implementing the maps that Governor JB Pritzker promulgated on September 24 and adopting new maps that they submitted to the court.

All three lawsuits had relied heavily on a 1986 United States Supreme Court precedent in North Carolina, Thornburg v. Gingles, who established three factors necessary to invalidate maps of legislative districts on grounds of racial discrimination.

Under this standard, complainants must demonstrate that the minority groups involved are sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member constituency; that minority groups are politically coherent; and that the majority vote sufficiently en bloc so that it can generally defeat the preferred candidate of the minority.

Center Square and the Chicago Tribune contributed to this story.

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