Illinois Senate approves congressional map

SPRINGFIELD — The battle over Illinois' newly redrawn congressional districts could shift quickly to the courts, with Republicans questioning on Tuesday whether the Democrats' plan creates enough heavily Latino districts and criticizing it for trying to undo GOP election gains.

Illinois had to adopt a congressional map with 18, instead of 19, U.S. House seats because the latest census showed slowing population growth in the state, although the Hispanic population increased sharply. Democrats, who controlled the once-a-decade redistricting process because they hold the state Legislature and governor's office, rushed to approve the map before Tuesday's midnight deadline when new rules would have kicked in and given the Republican minority a say in what passes.

"You have the power under our state constitution to make the power grab. I'm not sure that you have done so within the confines of the law. I think a federal judge will weigh in on this," said Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine.

The map lumps at least four freshman Republicans and one veteran into districts where they would have to run against other incumbents. The GOP also has complained that the map has only one majority Latino district, despite robust growth in the state's Latino population. The number of people who identified themselves as Hispanic grew at a rate of 32.5 percent in the latest census.

Although it's unclear who might ultimately file a lawsuit to try to block the map, questioning the number and makeup of minority districts under the Voting Rights Act is the method of doing it, said Deanna Mool, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois College of Law who teaches election law.

"That's clearly the best way to get a map overturned," Mool said.

The map has one majority Latino congressional district where nearly 66 percent of the voting-age population is Latino and three other districts where it ranges from about 22 percent to nearly 25 percent.

"Why is there only one Latino district drawn here?" Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale asked before the Senate passed the map 34-25 and sent it to Gov. Pat Quinn.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, the Chicago Democrat who led the Senate's redistricting work, said Latino groups didn't advocate for more than one majority district for Hispanics.

Josina Morita, executive coordinator of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, said it's not possible to draw two districts where Latinos make up about 65 percent of the population.

"The Latino population is so dispersed," Morita said. But she said they had hoped for a second district with a much higher Latino population than they got.

Still, Morita said filing a lawsuit over the maps isn't something her organization would do. But others have taken legal action before, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.

MALDEF isn't happy with the redistricting map for state House and Senate districts, but it's still studying the congressional map and doesn't discuss any potential legal action, said Elisa Alfonso, MALDEF's Midwest redistricting coordinator. Alfonso said MALDEF sued in 1981 over an Illinois congressional map, which helped lead to the creation of a district now represented by a Hispanic.

Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval of Chicago criticized his Republican colleagues for professing what he said was a sudden interest in the Latino community.

"I think they woke up just the other night realizing that the Latino community is in their districts," Sandoval said.

Even before the congressional map was finalized, one Democrat who lost his U.S. House seat to a Republican last year threw his name into the mix for the 2012 election. Former Congressman Bill Foster announced Tuesday he would run for re-election in a new congressional district in the Chicago suburbs.