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McCoy v. Chicago Heights Election Commission

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 22, 2018

Robert McCoy, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Chicago Heights Election Commission, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued October 30, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Nos. 87 C 5112 and 88 C 9800 - Robert W. Gettleman, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Easterbrook, Circuit Judges.

          Bauer, Circuit Judge

         Plaintiffs-appellants Robert McCoy and Kevin Perkins ("Appellants") appeal from the district court's order approving as constitutional a reapportioned map of aldermanic districts in the City of Chicago Heights ("the City"). The City redrew the ward boundaries pursuant to a consent decree entered in 2010, after decades of litigation. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court ruled that the City had sufficiently justified the population deviations in its proposed map. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case began in 1987, when a class of African-American plaintiffs filed suits against the City and the Chicago Heights Park District, alleging dilution of voting opportunity and challenging the methods for electing representatives to the City Council and the Park District Board. We will briefly summarize the relevant facts, but the long history of this litigation has been well documented through numerous written opinions. See Harper v. City of Chicago Heights, 223 F.3d 593, 596 (7th Cir. 2000) (summarizing and listing previous decisions).

         Early in the litigation, the election practices at issue were found to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1971, et seq. (currently cited as 52 U.S.C. § 10101). That finding set in motion an arduous process of attempting to remedy the violation through the establishment of a consent decree, which included a number of appeals and remands. Appellants split from the other class plaintiffs in 1994, and objected to the entry of the first consent decree. Since that time, they have remained as the main opposition to the proposed remedies for the violation.

         In November 2010, the district court entered the most recent consent decree ("the Decree"), which, despite its goal of settling all outstanding disputes, forms the basis for this appeal. The Decree established a seven-ward, single alder-manic form of government, and included a ward map that complied with the applicable constitutional requirements. The Decree also contained a provision requiring the City to reapportion the wards as the population changed.

         After the Decree was entered, the 2010 census results showed that the wards' populations had changed such that the map required reapportionment. Accordingly, the City endeavored to redraw the wards to comply with the Decree. On June 20, 2014, after a public comment process, the City passed an ordinance approving its redrawn ward map. Then, on October 22, 2014, the City filed a motion in the district court seeking approval of its redrawn map as constitutional. Appellants responded, objecting to the City's proposed map and seeking leave to file their own ward map for approval and implementation by the court.

         As an initial matter, the court held that the Decree did not allow for Appellants to propose their own ward map. Instead, it found that the Decree gave the City the exclusive right to reapportion the wards. Therefore, the court only considered the City's proposed map.

         The City's map still contained seven wards, each with an individual population deviation of less than ten percent. However, the overall deviation of the proposed map was 12.65%. Therefore, the court denied without prejudice the City's motion to approve the new map. The court gave the City the option of either submitting justification for the deviation or proposing a new map that would bring the overall deviation under ten percent. The City elected to submit a supplemental brief providing its justifications, and the court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether those were sufficient to support the overall population deviation.

         Ultimately, the court found that the City had presented sufficient justification and had made a good faith effort to reapportion the map with the smallest population deviations practicable. It found that the City used legitimate and nondiscriminatory objectives in reapportioning the wards, such as maintaining historical and natural boundary lines where possible, and easing voter confusion by redrawing unusual boundaries. For those reasons, the court held that the City had complied with the Decree, and it approved the City's proposed map as constitutional.

         II. ...


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