(Washington, D.C.) – Illinois lawmakers’ actions breaking apart the cohesive Black community in the East St. Louis area in order to advance their partisan political interests was upheld on Thursday, with a panel of three federal judges ruling that plaintiffs failed to establish the challenged redistricting map either constituted a racial gerrymander or unlawfully diluted Black voting strength in a lawsuit brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Cooley LLP on behalf of the East St. Louis Branch of the NAACP, the Illinois State Conference of the NAACP (“Illinois NAACP”), and the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (“UCCRO”) earlier this year.
Plaintiffs alleged the Illinois legislature’s current proposed redistricting plan unconstitutionally used race to gerrymander the Illinois State House districts in and around the East St. Louis area, moving Black voters among the districts in order to shore up Democratic incumbents, while diluting Black voting power in violation of the Voting Rights Act, according to the federal lawsuit. The three-judge panel instead found that Illinois lawmakers’ guiding motivation was political and partisan and thereby shielded from constitutional review despite the impact on Black voters. The panel described the newly drawn East St. Louis district as a “toss-up” in terms of the likelihood of Black voters still being able to elect their candidates of choice and thus in compliance with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
“Despite the court’s decision, we are proud to lift up the voices and experiences of Black voters in East St. Louis,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We are nevertheless disappointed by the court’s ruling. The record is clear that Illinois lawmakers intentionally diluted the voting power of a cohesive Black community, allowing their partisan political interests to trump the voices of Black voters. This decision is a part of a dangerous turn in legal precedent that essentially allows racial discrimination to masquerade as partisanship in order to pass legal muster. We will work with our clients and co-counsel to consider next steps in seeking equitable redistricting in East St. Louis and throughout Illinois.”
“The outcome of this court’s decision is frustrating, to say the least. We are at a critical time when we are facing a lack of voting protections on every front,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP. “Electoral maps are being drawn to the political expediency of candidates instead of the lived reality of Black and Brown electorates. We will continue to work with our partners to ensure we defend the rights and protections of our communities.”
“The Voting Rights Act protects Black voters’ right to an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice. This ruling undermines that right,” said Ami Gandhi, senior counsel at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “Illinois government leaders are eager to tout their commitment to racial equity and diversity but ignored the perspectives of Black and Brown communities during the redistricting process. Voters deserve better and we will continue to fight for greater accountability.”
“Cooley LLP remains committed to ensuring that all citizens are granted their constitutional right to vote for the candidate of their choice and that constitutionally protected groups who have worked hard to create community have a fair opportunity to elect the representative of their choice,” said Joseph Drayton, partner at Cooley LLP. “We hope that the Illinois State Legislature will listen to the voices of its citizens as expressed in this litigation going forward in the redistricting process.”
“It is very disappointing that in 2021, Black residents of East St. Louis won’t get justice today from our legal system. The courts have decided to support partisan gerrymandering over their legal duty to uphold and protect the voting rights of Black voters,” said Rod Wilson, executive director of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations.
“The NAACP is disappointed in the three-judge panel’s decision. However, we will continue to fight for freedom and justice for all people. Redistricting and the Voting Rights Act are of utmost importance to Black people and all people of color. As we continue to fight, the NAACP asks that we stay encouraged, engaged, involved, and stay on the battlefield,” said Teresa Haley, president of Illinois State Conference of the NAACP.
Significant work remains to strengthen voting rights of communities of color in Illinois and beyond. Counsel in this case look forward to working with the Illinois NAACP and UCCRO to continue to protect Black voters’ rights throughout the state of Illinois. Through continued advocacy, and collaboration counsel and plaintiffs will work to ensure that all Black and Brown voters’ rights are upheld.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. More information is here.
About Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights – Chicago Lawyers’ Committee is a group of civil rights lawyers and advocates working to secure racial equity and economic opportunity for all since 1969. We provide legal representation through partnerships with the private bar, and we collaborate with grassroots organizations and other advocacy groups to implement community-based solutions that advance civil rights.