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City asks judge to toss out legal challenge to new ward map

Map new Chicago wards

Map of the new Chicago wards

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to declare Chicago’s new ward map unconstitutional on grounds that it violates the one-man, one-vote principle and uses “grotesque shapes and boundaries” to protect incumbents.

The motion to dismiss was filed Wednesday by a legal team that includes Michael Kasper, who successfully defended Emanuel in the marathon residency challenge during the mayoral campaign.

The city’s arguments include: that the League of Women Voters lacks legal standing to file; that wards differing in population by less than ten percent do not constitute an equal protection violation” and that re-districting is a “peculiarly legislative function” that has been “traditionally respected” by the courts in the absence of “invidious discrimination” on the basis of race.

“The contention that a ‘better map’ can be drawn is a wholly insufficient reason to discard a redistricting plan drafted and approved by the appropriate legislative body,” the brief states.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Tom Geoghegan said he’s confident that all of the arguments can be overcome.

“It’s our emphatic position that the ten percent ‘safe harbor’ no longer exists” after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a state legislative redistricting case in Georgia, he said.

“They’re relying on case law now superceded. I feel very confident about our case. Their position is evasive and without merit. You don’t have to prove racial discrimination if you’re denying people the right to vote or one person one vote. This isn’t a race case. It wasn’t pleaded as a race case. It doesn’t have to be.”

Without a vote to spare, the City Council approved a map in January, 2012 that includes 13 Hispanic wards and two Hispanic “influence” wards” to reward Hispanics for their 25,218-person population gain in the 2010 U.S. Census.

The new boundaries endanger roughly a half-dozen incumbents also includes 18 black wards, down from 19 currently, despite a 181,453-person drop in Chicago’s black population.

Three weeks ago, the League of Women Voters and 14 individuals filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the new ward map on grounds that it violates the one-man, one-vote principles and uses “grotesque shapes and boundaries” held together by a narrow alley in some cases to protect incumbents.

They’re seeking to have what they call the “incumbent protection” map — with wards that differ in population by as much as 8.7 percent — replaced by boundaries divided equally by population and drawn by an “impartial blue-ribbon commission” or “individual special appointee.”

They’re also asking a federal judge to prohibit the Emanuel administration from immediately implementing the disputed boundaries when it comes to making pivotal decisions impacting zoning, traffic, transportation, housing, sanitation, licensing and aldermanic menu spending.

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