Lawsuit Filed Against Illinois Redistricting Plan For Undermining Power Of Black Vote

redistricting plan breaks up the geographically compact and politically cohesive Black community of East St. Louis.
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Photos: Zinn Education Project\ACLU

CHICAGO — The Illinois legislature’s S.B. 927 redistricting plan, creates unconstitutional racially gerrymandered districts for the Illinois House of Representatives, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and pro-bono counsel Cooley LLP.

The challenged redistricting plan breaks up the geographically compact and politically cohesive Black community of East St. Louis.

The civil rights groups are filing the lawsuit on behalf of the East St. Louis Branch NAACP, the Illinois State Conference of the NAACP, and the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) against the Illinois State Board of Elections and its members, along with Speaker of the House, Christopher Welch, and President of the Senate, Don Harmon.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

The suit alleges that race played a decisive role in the redistricting of Illinois House District 114, where one-fifth of the Black voting-age population was moved out of the newly redrawn district and thousands of white voters were added to the district. This was done for the benefit of white Democratic incumbents in neighboring House Districts 112 and 113, while jeopardizing the prospects of the candidates of preference of Black voters in House District 114, which has been represented by a Black legislator for decades.

The complaint alleges that this manipulation violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“These racially gerrymandered districts rob Black voters of their voice, power, and right to self-determination,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “By substantially increasing the number of white voters and breaking up the Black population of House District 114 to benefit white incumbents in other districts, the Illinois legislature has significantly diminished the voting power of the Black community in East St. Louis. The court must order these maps redrawn.”

It is unconstitutional for a legislature to use race as a means of achieving political ends. Further, under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Illinois legislature must maintain House District 114 as a district in which Black voters have an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice. Instead, the redistricting plan adopted through S.B. 927 ensures that House District 113 remains safe for white incumbents and that House District 112 would become safer for the white incumbent, by moving white voters from those districts into District 114 and shuffling around Black voters between the districts.

“It is unconscionable that in 2021 underhanded tactics are being used in a blatant effort to undermine and disenfranchise the Black electorate,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP. “It is not only lawless, but it is also immoral. At no point should politicians ever try to pick their voters.”

“Since early this year, our communities of color have said loud and clear that we are uncomfortable with the legislature’s redistricting process, and that we do not feel reassured that our rights are being respected,” said Rod Wilson of UCCRO, who was born and raised in East St. Louis. “It’s no surprise that a process that included only one day between releasing and approving the final map produced a map that dilutes the votes of East St. Louis’ Black community.”

“Community organizations like UCCRO and NAACP are the true experts on our neighborhood boundaries, changes, and preferences,” said Senior Counsel Ami Gandhi of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “When our lawmakers refuse to listen to them, they don’t just risk voters’ rights – they risk violating the law.”

“S.B. 927 would divide up neighborhoods with no thought given to what this means for actual voters,” said Teresa Haley, President of NAACP Illinois State Conference. “Redistricting is a chance to ensure that our democracy represents all people, including communities that are already marginalized. The NAACP is filing this lawsuit to protect the rights of Black voters in East St. Louis.”

“Far too often, political systems silence the voices of Black voters,” said Stanley Franklin, President of East St. Louis Branch NAACP. “Through this court case, the voices of Black voters in East St. Louis will be heard.”

“Cooley is committed to the pursuit of justice and fundamental fairness,” said Joe Drayton, law partner at Cooley LLP. “It is imperative for the voting rights of all individuals to be protected and not diluted. Our goal will be to prevent voter disenfranchisement in impacted House Districts in Illinois.”

The proportionate reduction of the Black population minimizes the opportunity of Black voters to participate effectively in the political process in House District 114 and be able to elect their candidates of choice. House District 114 has had a Black representative since 1975, and is the only House District in southern Illinois with a Black representative.

Read the lawsuit here.

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