Illinois court blocks redistricting reform
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The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a measure that would reform the way the state's legislative district lines are drawn is ineligible for the November ballot.
The court voted along party lines to uphold a Cook County judge's decision last month that the redistricting reform measure was too broadly written to conform with strict requirements for ballot initiatives. 
The proposal would have established an 11-member panel to redraw district lines after the next Census, in 2020. It aimed to incentivize compromise by requiring the votes of two Democrats and two Republicans before approving any maps.
But the court said the measure ran afoul of the rules by involving a state executive office in the multi-step redistricting process, rather than confining the proposed changes to the legislature. The amendment would have given the state auditor's office a role in deciding the panel's makeup.
Redistricting reform had been a major priority for Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who has clashed with the Democrats who control the state legislature. 
In a statement after the decision, Rauner said the court had reinforced the impression that the state's political system exists only to benefit itself.
"Today's court decision to deny Illinoisans the right to vote on a redistricting referendum does nothing to stem the outflow or change people's views of how the system is rigged and corrupt," Rauner said. 
"Fair maps create fair districts. The system is broken and controlled by career politicians."
The ruling is a victory for powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan, whose allies sued to block the proposed amendment. The plaintiffs in the case, led by the state Democratic Party's top lawyer, argued the new proposal would hurt minority-heavy districts around Chicago.
The proposal would certainly have dented Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers. Democrats control 71 of 118 seats in the state House, and 39 of 59 state Senate seats. 
Madigan has served as Speaker of the House since 1983, except for a two-year interregnum when Republicans won control in the mid-1990s.
More than half a million Illinois voters signed the petition to get redistricting reform on the ballot, largely paid for by business interests and good-government organizations. 
Independent Maps, the umbrella group behind the ballot measure, said in a statement it was considering whether to ask the court for a rehearing.
"Drafters of the Illinois Constitution would not recognize the interpretation made by the Supreme Court majority," said Dennis FitzSimons, the group's chairman. 
"According to the [court] majority, voters cannot propose sensible changes to the legislative article that would make a meaningful difference in the way legislative district boundaries are drawn."
Illinois has some of the most restrictive access laws for ballot measures in the country. Petitioners can only propose constitutional amendments that deal with the structure and procedure of the state legislature. 
Only nine proposed amendments have appeared on the state's ballots since 1998.
The Illinois amendment was the only serious redistricting reform proposal voters would face this year. Voters in South Dakota and Washington will decide on minor changes to their state's redistricting processes.