* Take a moment and read between the lines of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke’s dissent in the retiree health insurance case…
To reach its result, the majority must read into the pension protection clause language that is not there. Nowhere in the clause does it state that every benefit which “results from,” is “conditioned on,” “flows directly from” or “is attendant to” being a member of a pension system is provided constitutional protection. These phrases, which form the crux of the majority’s opinion, are simply crafted out of whole cloth. It is fundamental that the judiciary may not add language to a constitutional provision that was not approved by the voters of this state. To do so is to usurp the sovereign power of the people. The majority’s addition of language to the clause is error.
Moreover, by adding language to the pension protection clause, the majority fundamentally changes its meaning. The clause no longer protects the statutory benefits provided by a pension or retirement system. Instead, it provides constitutional protection to any statutory benefit—however unrelated to pensions—if the recipient of the benefit is a member of a pension system. And the majority provides no limit to this holding. Should the city of Springfield enact an ordinance which states that the members of the municipal pension system will receive an honorary plaque upon retirement, that benefit would “flow from” or be “conditioned on” membership in the system. The plaque, under the majority’s reasoning, would be a constitutionally protected contractual right that could not be diminished or impaired. I do not think this is what the drafters of the pension protection clause intended.
Unsurprisingly, nothing in the constitutional debate regarding the pension protection clause supports the majority’s reading of the provision. As the majority candidly acknowledges, the constitutional debate contains no references to health insurance premiums or other non-pension benefits for retirees. To the contrary, the unambiguous statements of the sponsoring delegates reflect that it was designed to protect a public retiree’s right to collect post retirement income in the form of an annuity and to ensure that the terms under which an employee acquired that right could not be altered to his or her detriment. […]
In sum, neither the plain language of the pension protection clause, the constitutional debate, our own case law, or case law from other jurisdictions supports the majority’s position. The pension protection clause protects pensions, not subsidized health care premiums.
Even though Justice Burke clearly disagrees with this particular ruling, it certainly appears that she agrees with the majority on the “clear” and “plain” language of the state Constitution’s pension protection clause.