By Jim EllisMay 25, 2021 — An interesting story is breaking in Illinois that involves four-term US Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria). Reports suggest that the congressman is considering running for an open state Supreme Court position next year instead of re-election.
The move would make some sense in that winning the 3rd District Supreme Court position would appear to give Republicans a 4-3 majority on the judicial panel, the only area of power that the GOP would control in the state.
Considering the Illinois congressional map is a heavy Democratic gerrymander (13D-5R statewide) and will likely continue as such under a new 17-seat map (down one from the current 18) to be drawn when the Census Bureau reports the track data to the states, probability is high that the collapsed seat will be Republican and come from Illinois’ downstate region.
Though fewer people reside in the state of Illinois today than 10 years ago, the population loss appears greater outside the Chicago metropolitan area. Democrats, with their wide majorities in both houses of the state legislature, will assuredly capitalize upon the opportunity of collapsing two of the few remaining GOP seats into one. This means despite languishing in a severe minority, Republican congressional strength in the state will likely diminish even further.
Illinois is one of the few states that runs its Supreme Court elections by districts. Justices are initially elected in partisan elections for 10-year terms, and then must stand for a yes-no retention vote to secure succeeding terms. To win retention, a justice must receive at least a 60 percent yes vote.
Third District Justice Thomas Kilbride recorded only a 56.5 percent yes vote in the November election; therefore, he was defeated. His appointed replacement, Democratic Justice Robert Carter, has already said he will not seek a full 10-year term in 2022, meaning the position will be open for election.
The LaHood move, if it were to occur, may not be so simple. Democratic leaders are beginning to argue that the Supreme Court districts themselves should be re-drawn. They point out the same map has been in use for Supreme Court elections for over five decades. Previously, federal judges have ruled that unequal population in judicial districts are not problematic because those who sit on the bench are not representatives. Therefore, the federal judiciary has exempted itself from redistricting. That, however, doesn’t mean legislatures are prohibited from re-drawing the judicial boundaries.
Ironically, redistricting is one reason the legislature may re-configure the state court boundaries. According to a Daily Kos Elections story, the state Supreme Court rejected, on a 4-3 party line vote, a previous move to approve a Republican-led redistricting proposition for the general election ballot.
The measure would have emphasized compactness of districts as a key criterion for the re-drawing of boundaries, a premise Democrats clearly feel would hurt them. A new Republican state Supreme Court majority could theoretically reverse the previous ruling and green light the measure for a public vote.
All 18 Illinois congressional districts will need to gain population, which is the reason the state lost a CD in the national reapportionment. Of the top 10 seats needing the greatest resident influx, the six downstate districts are all included.
Retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos’ (D-Moline) 17th District appears to be the top district requiring more people, and this borders Rep. LaHood’s 18th CD. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville), whose 13th District sits virtually in the middle of the downstate region, could be most vulnerable to having his seat split into many parts. Should Rep. LaHood move to the Supreme Court race, however, Davis would again likely have a place to run, assuming the legislative map drawers combined the Davis and LaHood districts virtually into one.
The Census Bureau’s long delay in completing their work also disproportionately affects Illinois. Losing a seat in reapportionment means they cannot carry over their current congressional map for one more cycle as many other states could if the redistricting process is stalled further. Illinois is further compromised in that the state holds a March primary.
Under the current delayed redistricting schedule, postponing the Illinois primary election date appears inevitable. This also changes the state’s political picture in heretofore unknown ways.
With Congressman LaHood considering a judicial campaign instead of running for re-election, one more intriguing political story worthy of further attention is added as the current election cycle matures.