If you were counting on the U.S. Supreme Court to put an end to House Speaker Mike Madigan's self-dealing manipulation of the Illinois legislative maps, guess again.
Monday's long-awaited rulings on two gerrymandering cases resolved exactly nothing.
The justices said the Democratic voters who sued over Wisconsin's 2011 maps hadn't shown they were harmed individually by Republicans' statewide power grab, so it's back to the lower courts to make that case.
Having punted on the chance to set a legal standard to identify unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, the justices saw no reason to force Maryland to redraw its maps before the 2018 election.
In cases dating back to 1986, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that partisan mapmaking could theoretically cross a line, but justices have refused to draw that line themselves. Maps that deliberately dilute one party's strength could violate the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Maps that sort residents into districts based on how they're expected to vote could run afoul of the First Amendment right to free expression. Your vote is your voice.
But since drawing legislative boundaries is inherently political, the still unanswered question is, how far is too far? That question has paralyzed the justices for decades. Politicians, meanwhile, have harnessed ever-more-sophisticated software to rig the maps with abandon:
The Wisconsin Assembly map, drawn by Republicans, resulted in the GOP claiming 60 of 99 seats in 2012, despite winning only 49 percent of the statewide vote.
Maryland's map includes a misshapen district -- drawn by Democrats to elect a Democrat -- that one federal judge described as a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.
In North Carolina, roughly 30 percent of voters are registered Republicans, but the party holds 10 of the state's 13 seats in Congress.
In 2010, Illinois voters sent 11 Republicans and eight Democrats to Congress. Two years later, under a new map crafted by Madigan's Democrats, the delegation flipped to six Republicans and 12 Democrats. (The state lost one seat because its population dropped.)
Patently corrupt, or just politics? It's the wrong question. A better question is, why do we allow politicians to draw their own districts in the first place?
Fair representation is supposed to be the goal of legislative mapmaking. But politicians can't resist the chance to rearrange the maps to suit themselves. Some neighborhoods are parceled into several districts, to reduce their voting power. Some voters are drawn into pterodactyl-shaped districts, to protect incumbents. Voters come last.
Let's pretend the Supreme Court had gone the distance on the Wisconsin case, smiling on the plaintiffs' proffered metric to measure partisan cheating. That wouldn't stop the Madigans of the world from gaming the legislative maps. It would simply create a new set of obstacles. Politicians would test them, citizens would sue. Keep in mind that we're two years away from the 2020 census and still tied up in court over maps that are based on the 2010 census.
Stop waiting for the supremely unhelpful courts. A handful of states already have taken redistricting out of the hands of politicians and assigned the job to independent commissions. Last month, Ohio voters approved a referendum to do so. Colorado, Utah, Missouri and Michigan are within striking distance.
And Illinois? Citizens have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, and raised and spent millions of dollars trying to get a measure on the ballot, only to lose to Madigan-sponsored court challenges -- three times. This year, they lobbied lawmakers to put an amendment on the ballot instead, but Illinois lawmakers don't get their marching orders from voters. Yes, it's discouraging. Double down.
The Supreme Court isn't going to fix this racket. Voters are going to have to do it themselves.