CHICAGO (CBS) — A lawsuit seeking to block ballot initiatives to impose term limits and to change the way legislative districts are drawn received its first court hearing on Monday.
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the lawsuit was filed on behalf of former ComEd CEO Frank Clark, developer Elzie Higginbottom, and other business leaders who contend the proposed 8-year limit for serving in the Illinois General Assembly would be a violation of the Illinois Constitution.
Michael Kasper, an attorney for the plaintiffs, would not speak to reporters after Monday’s initial hearing in Cook County Circuit Court. Kasper represented Mayor Rahm Emanuel when opponents challenged his residency before he was elected mayor in 2011. He’s worked for many other prominent Democrats, including President Barack Obama and President Bill Clinton, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, and House Speaker Michael Madigan. He was once Madigan’s top legal counsel, and was the House prosecutor for the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Mark Campbell, spokesman for the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits, said the lawsuit is all about career politicians trying to keep themselves in elected office.
“I think it’s safe to say that career politicians don’t want term limits, and they’re doing everything humanly possible to keep it off the ballot,” Campbell said. “Over 590,000 citizens of Illinois have spoken, who desperately want term limits.”
The lawsuit contends the term-limit proposal tries to string together several unrelated issues to meet previous Illinois Supreme Court tests involving ballot initiatives to change the state constitution. The only part of the Illinois Constitution that can be changed through a petition process must affect the legislature both structurally and procedurally.
In addition to limiting state lawmakers to eight years in office, the proposal would require a two-thirds vote to override a veto by the governor – rather than a three-fifths vote – and would increase the size of the House from 118 to 123 members, while reducing the size of the Senate from 59 to 41 members.
Campbell said the lawsuit challenging the term-limit proposal is hypocritical.
“They are claiming that it would be unduly harsh for taxpayers if they were actually to look at the over 500,000 petitions that we filed, when in fact it will cost more for the government entities to adjudicate the case and to try the case than would be spent just following the law,” he said.
The lawsuit also seeks to block a ballot initiative that would create an independent commission to oversee the redrawing of state legislative districts after every U.S. Census.
A group called “Yes for Independent Maps” gathered approximately 532,000 signatures in support of that ballot question, which would take away from lawmakers the power to create their own districts every 10 years.
Michael Kolenc, campaign manager for “Yes for Independent Maps,” said the effort to derail the two ballot initiatives appears to be all about preserving political power.
“They did file two days before we actually got our petitions into a truck and got them down to Springfield, so that smells of politics to me, but it will really be up to the court to decide,” he said.
Advocates of the proposal to change the redistricting process in Illinois have said the current method of mapping legislative districts allows the majority party in Springfield to solidify its power for up to a decade by creating districts favorable to incumbents.
The lawsuit challenging the redistricting initiative claims the effort is unconstitutional, as it would bar anyone who serves on the independent redistricting commission from becoming a state lawmaker, statewide elected official, or judge within 10 years. The suit claims such a prohibition exceeds the scope of petition-driven attempts to change the state constitution, as it would not be limited to the legislative branch.
A second hearing on the lawsuit has been scheduled for Wednesday.