Illinois Republicans Fight New Congressional Map at Trial

Republican lawmakers in Illinois asked a federal three-judge panel to block implementation of a new Democrat-drawn electoral map they say hurts Latino voters while eliminating one of the state’s 19 U.S. congressional districts.

Triggered by the 2010 Census, the map created by the Democratic Party-dominated state legislature this year places two incumbent Republican U.S. representatives in the same congressional district.

It also unconstitutionally shifts the boundaries of the state’s fourth district in Chicago’s south side, currently represented by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat, by concentrating Latino votes into a single “supermajority” while reducing their voting strength elsewhere, opponents of the plan claim.

“There can be no dispute that race was the predominant factor in the drawing of congressional district four,” an attorney for the challengers, Lori Lightfoot, told the court today at the outset of a scheduled two-day trial in Chicago.

U.S. Representatives John Shimkus, Judy Biggert, Randy Hultgren and Joe Walsh, all members of the state’s Republican delegation, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed on July 27.

The new map placed Hultgren and Walsh within the same boundaries.

Biggert, Hultgren and fellow Republican representatives Peter Roskam and Donald Manzullo appear on a list of potential witnesses published by the court Nov. 14.

Shimkus testified for the plaintiffs today as did two men who identified themselves as Mexican-American and a third man who said he was Cuban-American. Each said they believed the new plan injured the voting rights of Latinos.

Voting Rights

Illinois state board of elections lawyer Carl Bergetz, in his opening statement to the court, disputed that assertion.

“The state legislature had no discriminatory intent in drawing this map,” Bergetz told the panel, which includes U.S. Circuit Court Judge John D. Tinder, together with U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow of Chicago and U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller of South Bend, Indiana.

Expert witnesses for the defense will testify that the so-called supermajority fourth district -- which opponents have called the earmuff district because of its shape -- was neither the product of an illegal gerrymander or discriminatory intent, Bergetz said.

St. Louis

Shimkus, who currently represents the state’s downstate 19th district across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, told the court his hometown of Collinsville, population 22,000, would now be divided among three members of Congress under the new plan.

Shimkus visibly struggled to retain his composure as he discussed the town’s fate and his efforts to negotiate a bipartisan solution with Democratic colleague Jerry Costello, who is retiring at the end of his current term.

“It’s terrible,” he said of the new map’s effect upon his town, Republican incumbents and Illinois’ Latinos, which he said comprise the state’s biggest minority.

“You can’t dream that up,” he said of the new Latino-dominated Fourth District. “You just don’t think that would happen.”

The case is Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map v. Illinois State Board of Elections, 11-cv-5065, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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