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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs new maps for Illinois legislature, state Supreme Court
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs new maps for Illinois legislature, state Supreme Court

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who as a candidate vowed to veto any partisan redistricting plan for the legislature, signed into law Friday new partisan-drawn districts for the General Assembly and state Supreme Court designed to maintain his party’s control in Illinois.

Pritzker, who only a day earlier indicated that he was still reviewing the final lines of the legislation, said he was satisfied that they preserved racial and ethnic minority representation in line with the federal Voting Rights Act.

“Illinois’ strength is in our diversity and these maps help to ensure that communities that have been left out and left behind have fair representation in our government,” Pritzker said in a statement.

“These district boundaries align with both the federal and state Voting Rights Acts, which help to ensure our diverse communities have electoral power and fair representation,” he said.

The once-a-decade redrawing of the state’s legislative districts is one of the most political acts of the General Assembly, timed to coincide with population changes as a result of the federal census.

But this year, due to the pandemic and unsuccessful efforts by the Trump administration to block the counting of noncitizens, the actual census results are delayed until at least mid-August.

Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a press conference in Springfield on June 1. 

As a result, Democrats opted to use population estimates from the American Community Survey, a product of the federal Census Bureau that is less accurate than the granular census count. The use of estimated data to draw map lines is expected to be part of any legal challenge to the new boundaries. Lawsuits on redistricting are inevitable.

Democrats opted to use the less specific data because of a provision in the state constitution that requires a legislative redistricting map be signed into law by June 30, much earlier than the arrival of the hard census count. Failure to meet the end-of-June deadline would have set in motion a process that would have given Republicans a 50-50 chance to take control of the maps for the next decade.

Democrats, who have one-party control of state government in Illinois, have a 73-45 majority over Republicans in the House and a 41-18 advantage over the GOP in the state Senate.

Republicans were sidelined in the mapmaking process, largely complaining about a lack of transparency and the use of estimated data, and urged Pritzker to uphold his campaign pledge to veto the Democratic product.

Pritzker had said he favored an independent-style commission to draw new map lines to try to remove partisanship from the process but said lawmakers had failed to move to submit the question to voters. Instead, he said he would only veto an “unfair map.”

Senate Republican leader Dan McConchie said, “This incredible flip-flop is sad, but not surprising.”

The new maps, aimed at further enshrining Republicans as a superminority in the General Assembly, set up at least seven one-on-one contests of House GOP incumbents pitted against each other based upon where their homes are located.

“Today was a win for the people of this great state,” said Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside. “With Gov. Pritzker’s signature, people of Illinois can be confident in a legislative map that is reflective of the diversity that we see in every corner of our state.”

Pritzker also signed into law the first redrawing of Illinois Supreme Court boundaries since they were established in 1964, a move by Democrats to try to maintain their 4-3 majority on the state’s highest court.

Democrats contended the move to redraw the boundary lines for the Supreme Court districts was an attempt to reflect decadeslong changes in population which resulted in a largely collar county district having more than 3.1 million people while two Downstate districts each had a population of about 1.2 million.

But the population imbalance had lasted for years, and the Democrats’ move came after Democrat Thomas Kilbride of Rock Island last year became the first Supreme Court justice to ever lose a retention election to remain on the court.

Kilbride’s district, like much of Downstate, has turned steadily Republican and Democrats faced the potential of seeing a GOP court majority next November without redrawing the boundaries.

Under the state constitution, three justices are assigned to Cook County and one each to districts outside the county. The three judges from Cook County largely have helped Democrats maintain their high court majority. The new boundaries also were drawn from estimates.

Pritzker also signed into law new boundaries for the Cook County Board of Review, which reviews assessment complaints from property owners.

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