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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 03:34 pm

Court to rule on Springfield legislative district

GOP charges racial gerrymandering includes east side with Decatur

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While all eyes last week turned to the Republicans’ lawsuit against the new federal district map for U.S. congressmen, a similar GOP lawsuit against the legislative district map for Springfield’s state senators and state representatives may be teetering on the brink of collapse.

Many of the same arguments are being used by the Republicans in both the congressional and state legislative cases. Both suits have a partisan angle. The Republicans claim that the majority Democrats so intensely used political gerrymandering to draw their maps that the end result illegally deprived Republicans of their constitutional rights.

The court which is hearing the congressional map case has yet to rule on the political angle, but the court that heard the state legislative remap case dismissed the Republicans’ political charge last week. The political gerrymandering strategy was never considered all that solid because nobody has ever won a case using that argument.  The strategy is given about the same chance of success – slim to none – in the congressional case.

As with the congressional map, the Republicans also challenged several Democratic-drawn state legislative districts for being racially gerrymandered. All but two of those challenges to the state legislative map have been dismissed. Actually, all of them were tossed, but the Republicans were told they could replead their case on two of the districts on Dec. 12.

One of those two is an Illinois House district that runs from Springfield to Decatur. The district takes in Springfield’s predominantly African-American east side and then heads over to black neighborhoods in Decatur. The district has a black voting age population of 25 percent. The Republicans claim that the Democratic mapmakers’ predominant intent was to pack as many black voters as possible into the district, which they claim is illegal.

The other district was drawn for state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside). That district, in and around Chicago’s Southwest Side, is about 46 percent Latino and the Republicans claim it should be majority Latino.

Needless to say, even if the Republicans win their argument on these two districts, the state legislative map as a whole may not change all that much. However, changing just one boundary can have a wide-ranging ripple effect.

For instance, pulling enough people into Rep. Zalewski’s district to make it majority Latino would cause the Democrats to scramble to figure out what they’re going to do with the rest of Chicago’s Southwest Side, which was precariously balanced to give everybody what they wanted.

The end result there could be that some majority black districts lose Latino voters in order to make sure that current Latino districts remain Latino districts. That means the Democrats will have to find other places to take voters from, which could cause some suburban white Democratic legislators to lose black voters, which means the Republicans might have a better chance of winning one or two of those districts.

Got all that? Like I said, wide-ranging ripple effects.

A Republican win on the Springfield/Decatur district charge could take away a possible House Democratic pickup opportunity. That area is now represented by a Republican, who announced he was running in an adjacent district, mainly because it’s much better to sell a house in this horrible real estate market and find a new residence than possibly losing one’s job if one stood and fought an uphill battle. A court win there could also endanger Illinois Senate Democratic Chief of Staff Andy Manar’s bid to join the chamber, since the House district makes up half of Manar’s new Senate district.

The Republicans have never been all that confident about their suit against the state legislative map. Legislative Democratic leaders worked extra hard to ensure their state map would withstand a court challenge.

But state Democrats don’t care nearly as much about the congressional map, and some Republicans still have hope they can prevail on at least some points in that case. Besides the probably doomed political angle, the Republicans say Congressman Luis Gutierrez’s Chicago-area district has too many Latino voters, and want some of those voters parceled out to two neighboring districts, which are currently less than 50 percent Latino.

Stay tuned.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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