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updated: 7/27/2011 8:25 PM

Lawsuit challenging new congressional map filed by GOP

Map shortchanges Latino and Republican voters, federal lawsuit claims

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  • New IL congressional map

    Graphic: New IL congressional map

 
By Kerry Lester
Politics and Projects Writer
klester@dailyherald.com

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a newly drawn Illinois congressional map was filed by Republicans Wednesday, with the suburbs on the front lines of the now-official battle.

Members of the Batavia-based Committee For A Fair And Balanced Map, which includes former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Plano, and with members of the state's Republican delegation claim that the plan "blatantly discriminates against Latino and Republican voters."

The federal lawsuit claims the plan, approved by the General Assembly in late May and signed quietly into law by Gov. Pat Quinn late last month, violates the First Amendment as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

"(The map) as a whole and several individual districts in particular represent a flexing of Democratic political muscle in Springfield aimed at creating a Democratic majority in the Illinois congressional delegation, regardless of the actual preferences of the electorate demonstrated only nine months ago," the lawsuit reads.

The plan dismantles traditional areas of Republican influence such as DuPage County, diluting that influence across multiple districts, many carefully connected to traditional areas of Democratic strength.

That blueprint -- stretching and skewing suburban boundaries lines to protect Democrats' traditional Chicago base -- could reduce Republican representation in Congress by as many as five seats, political experts say.

The lawsuit complains that despite a doubling of the state's Hispanic population over the past 20 years, the new map provides for only one majority-Hispanic congressional district.

In a statement, Quinn called the congressional map "fair" and said it "maintains competitiveness within congressional districts, and protects the voting rights of minority communities."

As it stands right now, Republicans hold all but one of the congressional seats in the Northwest and West suburbs. The new map makes maintaining that ratio more difficult come 2012 and beyond.

It puts Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Winfield Republican who defeated first-term Democrat Bill Foster in November, and fellow freshman Republican Joe Walsh of McHenry in the same district. Hultgren's current district -- also Hastert's seat for two decades -- would now be split in two at the Kane and McHenry county border.

The Kenilworth home of freshman Republican Rep. Robert Dold is now in the same district with veteran Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat.

Republican Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale's current DuPage district was virtually obliterated, carved up into six different pieces.

"Adding insult to injury," the suit notes, Biggert's home has been drawn into a district that "sweeps in a curving hook from the Lake Michigan shoreline on the North side of Chicago around the Latino enclaves on Chicago's west side ... until it just catches Congresswoman Biggert's suburban Hinsdale home at its very tip."

The new map also creates two new open districts filled with independent and Democratic-leaning voters.

While suburban members of Congress have declined to comment individually, the 10 members of Illinois' Republican delegation issued a collective statement Wednesday noting "from the beginning, we have said that this map cannot stand."

"While we are disappointed that Gov. Quinn chose to rubber-stamp this flawed map, we are confident that an impartial review of the facts in court will expose the serious defects in this map and reverse the naked partisan power-grab contemplated by the Democrats," the statement said.

Hastert, who served in the state legislature before his election to Congress in 1987, has been involved in redistricting challenges for the past 29 years.

In 1991, after lawmakers failed to enact a law redrawing Illinois congressional districts, Hastert spearheaded successful Republicans efforts in federal court to adopt a plan based on equal population.

"The real hook on this thing is the voting rights act," Hastert said of the current suit, which Republicans argue denies effective representation to Latinos.

Yet, Democratic state Sen. Michael Noland, vice chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, has said he believes the new map will pass "constitutional muster."

Despite that, he said previously in response to complaints about the map, "This is what happens when you have partisanship really holding sway over the process. I look forward to the day where it's much more impartial. ... We need people in competitive (districts), to be concerned about their jobs and be responsive to the electorate. I'm hopeful of that in the next redistricting cycle 10 years from now."

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