In a blow to Chicago's entrenched white Democratic organization, the U.S. Supreme Court today cleared the way for redrawing the lines of several aldermanic wards in black and Hispanic neighborhoods where whites have long held political control.
The high court rejected without comment an appeal by the City Council's white majority, which was seeking to reverse a lower court ruling that the wards must be redistricted to reflect increased minority voting strength. Five wards are at the center of the dispute; three others also could be affected by the court action.
Mayor Harold Washington, calling it a "banner day," acclaimed the Supreme Court's action and predicted that it will lead to a shift in the council's balance of power in his favor. Washington, who is midway through his first term as the city's first black chief executive, foresaw quick redistricting, followed by early special elections.
"The way is clear to draw the first fair ward maps in Chicago in 50 years. It's particularly pleasing to the Hispanics," he said.
For more than two years, Washington's self-styled reform administration has been in bitter deadlock with a 29-member white majority on the City Council. The 50-member council, elected in 1983, has 32 whites, 17 blacks and one Hispanic.
Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak, leader of the white faction and chairman of the Cook County Democratic Committee, voiced strong doubts today about the likelihood of either a quick redistricting or new elections. "I'm not willing to predict that," he told reporters at City Hall. "I can't see any election this fall. I think the courts have gone too far."
Washington supporters said the mayor's forces could win special elections in at least five redrawn wards. If that occurred, Washington could gain a City Council majority and govern with a freer hand. The mayor is expected to seek reelection in 1987.
The redistricting issue arose in 1981 when black and Hispanic plaintiffs challenged the new ward boundary map drawn by the City Council to conform to the 1980 census. The city's white population had declined to 43.2 percent from 65.5 percent in 1970. In the same period, black population increased to 39.8 from 32.7 percent, and the Hispanic population increased from 7.3 to 14 percent.
In 1982 U.S. District Court Judge Thomas McMillen found that the remap violated the federal Voting Rights Act, and ordered new ward boundaries to ensure black population majorities in 19 wards and Hispanic majorities in four others.
But a federal appeals court ruled that McMillen had not gone far enough, and sent the case back to him to draw new boundaries with a goal of ensuring a 65 percent minority population in districts intended to elect blacks and Hispanics to the council. The City Council challenged the appeals court decision, bringing the dispute to the Supreme Court, which refused today to review it.
Alderman Danny Davis, one of the mayor's staunchest black allies, said two wards where blacks are a majority but which have white aldermen are likely to be redrawn. Raymond G. Romero, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, said four wards with white aldermen in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods also likely would be redrawn.