Madison County sues state over court map that would disrupt 2 Republican judge campaigns

·3 min read
This map shows the new division of subcircuits in Madison and Bond counties. (Illinois House Democrats)

Madison County’s state’s attorney filed a lawsuit Friday to try to stop a plan opponents say allowed Democrats to pull the rug out from under two local Republican judge candidates.

Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law that splits the current 3rd Judicial Circuit — which includes Madison and Bond counties — into new sections called subcircuits.

The change is unconstitutional and scrambles election planning for two openings in the 3rd Circuit by using an outdated precinct map, according to the suit filed by Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine.

It also affects two judges temporarily appointed to circuit vacancies: Republicans Christopher Threlkeld and Amy Sholar. Threlkeld has held the seat since February 2020 and Sholar since April 2021, and both announced plans to run this year.

The new map means they would have to move in order to run for election to their current seats, according to Haine’s office.

“Every citizen should be concerned anytime that legislative actions are taken to influence the court system,” state Rep. Amy Elik, R-Fosterburg, wrote in a newsletter Friday.

Democratic House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said the subcircuits will allow communities to elect judges who represent their interests and create diversity on the bench. Voters will only be able to vote for judges in their own subcircuit; before they could vote for judges countywide.

“These new subcircuits will help improve the diversity of opinion and background of judges, while giving everyone a voice in electing a bench of judges they feel best represent their communities,” Welch said in a statement in early January.

The lawsuit says the newly drawn judicial map used old precinct boundaries no longer in effect. The Madison County Board adopted a revised precinct map in December.

“This redrawing of voting precincts in Madison County has changed the makeup or completely eliminated a number of precincts referred to in the (law),” the suit says.

The change causes confusion among candidates planning to circulate petitions, as well as for voters, the lawsuit alleges.

Madison County’s current voter registration cards don’t include any information on the new subcircuits, meaning they’ll have to be redrafted to inform voters about which subcircuit they live in, the suit states.

The requirement “poses an undue burden on Madison County Administration in terms of the time, manpower and resources it will take to implement for the 2022 elections,” the lawsuit states.

Changes to other circuit maps don’t go into effect until 2024, but Madison County’s map goes into effect this year with no explanation for the “differential treatment,” the suit says. Additionally, the Illinois Constitution doesn’t allow the General Assembly to eliminate all countywide judgeships, the lawsuit argues.

Haine filed the suit in Sangamon County, home to the state Capitol, and it names Pritzker, the Illinois State Board of Elections and Illinois Supreme Court Clerk Cynthia Grant. Pritzker and the state elections agency didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday. The clerk’s office declined to comment.

A hearing could happen as early as Monday, according to a spokesman for Haine. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order to stop the plan from going into effect until a judge makes a ruling.

“We are arguing that a pause is warranted here to let clearer heads prevail,” Haine said in a prepared statement. “With this pause, our upcoming 2022 judicial elections can be held county-wide, as they have always been, while the courts closely review this very dubious new subcircuit scheme.”

The 3rd Circuit is one of 23 statewide, according to the Madison County Circuit Court. Each circuit is made up of between one and 12 counties dependent on population, and therefore can be changed following the U.S. Census every decade. The Democratic-majority state legislature controls redistricting.

The current makeup of the court includes eight circuit judges and 12 associate circuit judges.

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