* Jim Nowlan writes about the judicial prospects for pension reform…
[House Speaker Michael Madigan] has, rather brazenly, declared that he believes there are four votes on the state high court of seven members to declare the bill constitutional. There are four Democrats and three Republicans on the court.
The Illinois Supreme Court has always been considered a “political court,” capable of responding to political realities. Its members are elected in partisan contests. One member is the wife of a prominent Chicago alderman.
And Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride of Rock Island was lifted from a small general law practice to the high court in 2000 when Speaker Madigan, who is also the state Democratic Party chair, basically took over Kilbride’s lackluster campaign and funneled almost a million dollars into it to surprise the favored GOP candidate in a narrow win.
So this “armchair constitutional lawyer” predicts, going way out on a limb, that a bill closer to Madigan than Cullerton will pass sometime this year, and that the state Supreme Court will swallow hard and declare the underlying defined benefit unimpaired, thus constitutional.
Yeah, well, Kilbride was also heavily backed by unions, particularly in his tough 2010 reelection bid. I’m not so sure that he’ll jettison them just to please MJM on one ruling.
* No matter how it plays out in the General Assembly, the courts will be the next big chapter in the pension reform war. Kirk Jenkins penned a remarkable blog post recently which looked at the Kilbride Court’s record. For instance, most appellate decisions have been overturned in all but one district…
Nearly half of the Kilbride Court’s civil docket — 43.8% — has come from Chicago’s First District. The First hasn’t fared well; five of the six Divisions have a reversal rate of 60% or more, topping out with an 85.7% reversal rate in the Division Two. The First District has had a particularly rough 2012, with a 76.5% reversal rate. The Fifth District, which includes Madison and St. Clair Counties, both sharply criticized as pro-plaintiff environments for tort cases in recent years by the American Tort Reform Foundation, has seen 80% of its civil decisions reversed by the Supreme Court. Two other Districts are similar: two thirds of the decisions reviewed from the Second and Third Districts have been reversed.
But the anomaly comes from the Fourth District, which centers on the state capital of Springfield. The Court has heard eight civil cases from the Fourth District, four involving government parties. In six of those eight cases (including three government wins) the Supreme Court has affirmed: an impressive 75% affirmance rate.
* Jenkins also looked at the voting patterns. It’s pretty complicated and involved and you should definitely go read the whole thing to get the entire flavor, but here is his summation….
Our analysis of the dynamics of the Kilbride Court just past its second anniversary suggests several tentative lessons for counsel: (1) if you prevailed at the Appellate Court, the odds your decision will be reversed are roughly two in three (unless you’re coming from the Fourth District); (2) the Court’s ultimate decision is quite likely to be unanimous; and (3) if the decision is not unanimous, the Justices most likely to be in the majority are Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier and either Burke or Theis.
That suggests there might be a working GOP majority if the final decision is split. We’ll see.
…Adding… Justice Karmeier won a traditionally Democratic district last time around and is up for reelection in 2014. If politics plays a role here, then Karmeier may shy away from whacking public employees. Take a look at his district, which is pretty much all of the Metro East and deep southern Illinois. The Democrats will be gunning for his seat, so I’m not certain that he’ll want to give them ammo with a pro-Madigan decision, no matter how ironic that may sound. It’s about winning elections, not policy.
Also, Rita Garman represents both Champaign and McLean counties, which have very large universities. Something to keep in mind.