(A) spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the decision “has no direct impact” on the pension litigation.
“While this decision is very clear on the fact that the pension clause covers health care benefits, the arguments in the pension reform litigation are different than the ones in this healthcare case,” attorney general spokeswoman Maura Possley said in an email. “We will continue to vigorously defend the pension reform law.”
Supporters of the pension reduction law say those legal issues revolve around the question of whether the legislature essentially has emergency powers to modify the benefits in order to deal with a funding crisis and ensure the stability of the pension funds.
“This landmark law was urgently needed to resolve the state’s $100 billion pension crisis,” Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman said in an email. “It was also urgently needed to ensure that teachers, university employees and state workers who have faithfully contributed to the pension system have retirement security.
“We’re confident the courts will uphold this critical law that stabilizes the state’s pension funds while squarely addressing the most pressing fiscal crisis of our time by eliminating the state’s unfunded pension debt.”
John Myers, an attorney who represents plaintiffs in both cases, said the attorney general’s office was “whistling past the graveyard.”
“A strong signal has been sent by the Supreme Court that is going to affect the outcome of that other case,” Myers said.
* 3:27 p.m. - From Kwame Raoul…
State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago 13th) issued the following statement on the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Kanerva v. Weems that a 2012 law altering state retirees’ health insurance benefits violated the Pensions Clause of the Illinois Constitution. Raoul chaired the conference committee that produced last year’s compromise pension reform law, which is now the subject of pending litigation, and negotiated a reform plan for City of Chicago retirement systems.
During the years-long debate over various pension reform proposals, I have consistently cautioned that we must align our actions with the constitution’s protections of state workers and their benefits. However, while we could examine previous decisions and discuss the legal precedents, there was no sure way to obtain guidance from the courts on this matter aside from passing a law and waiting for them to react.
Today, we begin to glimpse the nature of this reaction.
The Illinois Supreme Court has handed down a forceful decision, backed by six of its seven justices. Its powerful affirmation of the constitution’s protection of contractual rights and promised benefits may serve as a predictor of how this court will handle challenges to Senate Bill 1 and similar reform measures.
Today’s ruling did not speak directly to the “police powers” argument that in times of fiscal emergency, the state may be justified in taking extraordinary steps to balance its responsibilities and carry out its duties to all residents. But the court did clarify that in addition to protecting contractual rights, the Pensions Clause insulates public employees from the diminishment of their benefits by the General Assembly.
We must wait for the specifics of future opinions to firmly establish the parameters of a constitutional approach to meeting our obligations and setting our state on a firm financial footing. No matter what those specifics are, I remain committed to a long-term solution that improves our state and protects the rights of our valued public employees.