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Democratic Illinois Trio Voices Ire Over Map

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Last week, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. went ballistic over Illinois redistricting lines during a Democratic delegation meeting, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

Democrats hailed Illinois’ new Congressional map as a work of redistricting art earlier this year, but now the three black Democrats in the delegation are raising serious objections.

Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr., Bobby Rush and Danny Davis have concerns about whether the new map adheres to the Voting Rights Act. The trio is also hesitant to help Democrats defend the map in court against a GOP lawsuit.

“I have serious concerns that are likely to be aired in the legal process between both sides,” Jackson said Tuesday evening.

Earlier this month, the lawmaker penned a letter to the president venting his frustration with the Justice Department. Last week, he went ballistic in a Democratic delegation meeting, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

“He was, in his own way, boisterous and bombastic and perhaps inappropriate in that meeting,” one of the sources said. “It seemed like a strange time to discuss that. There were several meetings when the map was being discussed in the first place.”

At the meeting, Democrats discussed how to pay for as much as  $500,000 in court fees to fight a GOP lawsuit challenging the new lines. The Illinois Democrats were asked to chip in $10,000 each from their campaign funds. But Davis said that he, Jackson and Rush refused to pay.

Earlier this year, Illinois Democrats crafted the most controversial and aggressive new Congressional map so far this cycle. The map dismantled the districts of several Republican Members — the vast majority of whom are suing to overturn the map in court.

In their lawsuit, Illinois Republicans argued the new map does not provide ample representation for Hispanic voters and proposed a new map with a second majority Hispanic district.

But now, Jackson, Davis and Rush are also concerned about minority representation under the new map.

“I’ve been asked by Congressman Rush and Congressman Davis to look into both maps and their implications for Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which all three of our districts are the byproduct of,” Jackson said Tuesday. “And at this time, I have not made a judgment, one way or the other.”

Davis confirmed separately that he is also undecided about how to deal with the map. Rush’s spokeswoman declined to comment.

Davis hinted his concerns might also be aired in the court fight over the GOP’s lawsuit.

“We haven’t made a full determination in relationship to where we’re going to be as we go through the lawsuit,” Davis said. “What we have not done is — we’re not certain we’ve looked at all of the data. We looked at some of the data, especially that which relates to Cook County.”

Davis lamented that while state officials asked the Congressional delegation to fund the legal defense of the new map, Members would not get a say in which attorneys handled the case.

“We also feel that we need to have some input into the selection of attorneys that the attorney general will bring onboard to be our representatives or to represent the state as experts in the area,” Davis said. “I think there’s some question in relationship to the Voting Rights Act, and we want to make sure we are in sync with it.”

Some Illinois Democrats speculated Jackson’s frustration over the new map could be a product of his own political predicament. His new Congressional district on Chicago’s South Side includes new urban and exurban territory.

Former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D), who served one term and was defeated in 2010, expressed interest recently in challenging Jackson. Halvorson and Jackson have a long history of being at odds with each other, and their relationship is notoriously acrimonious.

In the past few weeks, Jackson has reached out to local Hispanic leaders and other concerned parties about minority representation under the new map. He emphasized he had not made a decision about what to do going forward because his “research is ongoing.”

“What I have done is talked to the Congressional Research Service,” he said. “I’ve talked to a number of Latino leaders on the ground in Chicago. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time following up on that which Mr. Rush and Mr. Davis asked me to do. I have some serious concerns about Section 2.”

Section 2 of the Voting Right Act of 1965 prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate based on race, color or membership. It’s used frequently as an argument in redistricting lawsuits when one party does not believe the map accurately gives minority groups voting representation.

The Hispanic population in Illinois is greater than the black population. But the map drawn by Illinois Democrats creates three districts with a black voting-age population of more than 50 percent and one district with a Hispanic voting-age population of almost 66 percent. The district with the Hispanic super majority was drawn for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D).

However, Jackson appears to be nationalizing his cause to ensure new maps drawn this cycle adhere to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Earlier this month, Jackson penned a letter to President Barack Obama. He described his worry that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division wasn’t fulfilling its enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“I am concerned, however, that your administration’s early pledge to rebuild and refocus the Justice Department’s commitment has, in my judgement, fallen short of this goal,” Jackson wrote on Sept. 6, according to a copy of the letter supplied by Jackson’s office. 

He accused the Democratic-led Justice Department of having a worse track record of raising Section 2 claims than the same department under President George W. Bush.

“It is critical that Justice provide leadership in Section 2 enforcement and argue for minority coalition districts,” he wrote.

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