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Judge dimisses lawsuit seeking to overturn city’s new ward map

Rahm Emanuel enters Pritzker Paviliwith his wife Amy RuleFILE PHOTO. |  Al PodgorskiChicago Sun-Times

Rahm Emanuel enters Pritzker Pavilion with his wife, Amy RuleFILE PHOTO. | Al PodgorskiChicago Sun-Times

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Updated: September 26, 2013 6:50AM

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to overturn Chicago’s new ward map on grounds that it violated the one-man, one-vote principle and used “grotesque shapes and boundaries” to protect incumbents.

The costly legal battle that aldermen tried desperately to avoid — but happened anyway one year later — ended earlier than expected, thanks to U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman.

In a little noted Aug. 16 ruling, Coleman concluded that the City Council was well within its rights to approve a map with wards that differ in population by as much as 8.7 percent.

“The Supreme Court has held that, ‘an apportionment plan with a maximum population deviation under 10 percent falls within this category of minor deviations that are insufficient’ to support clams” that the equal-protection clause has been violated, the judge wrote.

The League of Women Voters and 14 individuals wanted the so-called “incumbent protection” map replaced by boundaries divided equally by population and drawn by an “impartial blue-ribbon commission” or “individual special appointee.”

They also asked the judge to prohibit Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration from immediately implementing the disputed boundaries when it comes to making pivotal decisions that affect zoning, traffic, transportation, housing, sanitation, licensing and aldermanic menu spending.

Coleman dismissed all of their arguments. She noted that “virtually any reapportionment scheme will naturally make it easier for some aldermen to be re-elected” while making it more difficult for others.

“The Supreme Court has expressly rejected the argument that the possibility of drafting a ‘better’ plan alone is sufficient to establish a violation of the one-person, one-vote principle,” she wrote.

“In the drawing of any map, mathematical equality is one factor among several that affects the contours of districts. Furthermore, there are no allegations in the complaint to support an inference of intentional discrimination of an identifiable group and actual discriminatory effect on that group.”

As for the immediate implementation argument, Coleman wrote, “This court is not and should not be in a position of reviewing decisions of individual aldermen to ensure they are serving their current constituents.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Tom Geoghegan said he plans to appeal Coleman’s ruling. He remains confident the federal appeals court will have a different view of individual wards that differ in population by “thousands” of voters, with the 2nd, 15th and 36th Wards the most egregious examples of wards “arbitrarily” drawn.

“We have a very strong case on the merits. They have violated one-person, one-vote and they have done it for arbitrary and bad-faith reasons. There is political partisanship and arbitrary conduct in the way the map was drawn,” Geoghegan said Friday.

Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said he’s pleased, but not surprised that what he called the “unusual challenge in a Voting Rights case” was dismissed.

Without a vote to spare, the City Council approved a map 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 that 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.


Twitter: @fspielman

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