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Minority Groups Courted Before Redistricting Lawsuit

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  A lawsuit seeking to keep two citizen's initiatives from ever coming before voters has been filed. Although the case makes no mention of how it will affect minority voters' rights, sources say organizers took pains to reach out to ethnic groups.

Two potential constitutional changes are at issue: one limiting how long legislators can be in office, the other stripping them of the power to draw their own districts.

The suit challenging them was filed by Mike Kasper, an attorney closely aligned with House Speaker Mike Madigan; the powerful Democrat is against both plans.

There are about a dozen plaintiffs, including several minority organizations, like members of Peoria's NAACP chapter and the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

Sources say ethnic groups were courted. At a recent luncheon in Chicago, they were told the redistricting change would cut the number of minority districts. At least one individual who attended did not want to be identified, fearing a loss of state grant money.

Still, other minority groups support the measure.

"Our point of view is that the Latino community got shortchanged in the last redistricting process," Latino Policy Forum Director Sylvia Puente says.

Puente is hopeful about a provision in the new plan that says a map cannot dilute a minority community's ability to elect its own candidates.

Kasper declined to comment on tape.

He filed the lawsuit late Tuesday, before petitions that would put the constitutional amendment proposals on the November ballot had been submitted to state elections authorities: Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner submitted his term limits petitions on Wednesday, while "Yes! For Independent Maps" organizers are scheduled to turn in their paperwork Thursday afternoon.

The speed is a sure sign of how eager Springfield's powers-that-be are to kill the plans.

Although Kasper is the attorney for the Democratic Party of Illinois, a spokesman says the Party is not involved in this case.

The lawsuit argues both proposals fail the test for citizen initiatives in the Illinois Constitution. It says they're at once too narrowly crafted -- in that they don't seek to alter both "structural and procedural" aspects of the legislature -- but also that they'd go way too far.

Rauner and the redistricting group say they anticipated those objections, and drafted their plans to meet constitutional muster.

The case is expected to ultimately be decided by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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