US Court of Appeals Sides with the City of Chicago in Equal Protection Clause Regarding Ward Redistricting Map

The City of Chicago began the business of reapportioning its 50 aldermanic wards. To accomplish this goal, the City Council conducted public hearings in 2011 to solicit opinions from citizens regarding the redrawing of ward boundaries.

Under Illinois law, the City Council was required to get the approval of 41 aldermen in order to prevent a referendum on the redistricting plan. In January 2012, the City Council approved the redistricting plan by a vote of 41-8.

The wards created by the redistricting map deviated from an even distribution of population by a maximum of 8.7% per ward.

The League of Women Voters of Chicago filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge the plan. The League argued that the 2015 map did not adhere to equal population principles established under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The League also maintained that the City prematurely put in place the 2015 boundaries, which infringed upon the right to vote. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the City of Chicago’s 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.

The case was appealed and the appeals panel began by addressing the equal protection argument by citing Brown v. Thomson. The court of appeals noted that the Supreme Court has held that a population deviation greater than 10% created a prima facie case of discrimination that must be justified by the state.

The panel, however, stated that when the population variation is less than 10%, the deviation is considered minor, and plaintiffs cannot establish a violation of the equal protection clause from population variations alone.

To overcome that presumption, the League of Women Voters alleged in its complaint that the plan was both arbitrary and discriminatory. In support of its arbitrariness argument, the League pointed to a statement that was made by Alderman Patrick J. O’Connor. According to the League, Alderman O’Connor had stated that the map was created in order to have the largest number of council members available so that a referendum would not occur.

The appeals panel found that the statement did not indicate that the plan did not demonstrate collusion and that the statement of a single alderman was insufficient to establish that the entirety of the council acted in bad faith.

In addition, the appeals court found that there was nothing that the League had alleged that showed how any of the new district shapes were harmful to Chicago voters.

Citing Gaffney v. Cummings, the court of appeals stated that the compactness or attractiveness of district shapes was not an independent constitutional requirement.

The panel then turned to the League’s claim that the plan was put in place prematurely. In other words, it decided on the districts before coming to 2015. The panel noted that the complaint admitted that the council had not expressly approved, by resolution or ordinance, the right of council members representing constituents on the basis of the new ward boundaries.

In conclusion, the court of appeals panel stated that the League’s allegations showed only isolated instances of select aldermen taking or refusing action based on the 2015 boundaries. Accordingly, the court of appeals affirmed the decision dismissing the League of Women Voter of Chicago’s lawsuit regarding the City’s redistricting map.

League of Women Voters of Chicago, et al. v. City of Chicago, No. 13-2977 (U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Cir., July 9, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling trial matters for individuals, families and businesses for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Lake View, Andersonville, Ravenswood Gardens, Oz Park, Pill Hill, Pilsen, Chinatown, Greektown, Edison Park, Edgewater, East Garfield Park, Bucktown, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Brighton Park, Belmont Central, Belmont Gardens, Back of the Yards, Avondale, Austin, Archer Heights, Irving Park, Hyde Park, Humboldt Park, Wrigleyville), Cicero, Des Plaines, Evergreen Park, Hinsdale and Kenilworth, Ill.

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