WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Illinois Pension Battle Might Not Be Done

Jul 28, 2015

Illinois might not be done with the 2013 law reducing state employees’ pensions. Attorney General Lisa Madigan appears to be preparing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The question of whether Illinois could save money by reducing state workers’ and retirees’ pensions seemed to be answered in May when Illinois Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled against the proposal.  They cited a clause in the state constitution that said retirement benefits cannot be diminished.

Illinois has until August 6 to appeal to the nation’s highest court.  While Attorney General Lisa Madigan hasn’t quite done that, it might well be on the horizon. Her office on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an extension to September 10 to file an appeal.

John Fitzgerald, an attorney for retired public school teachers, said they’ll fight it.

“This is entirely a matter of Illinois State Law. There is no basis for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene,” Fitzgerald said.

The Attorney General’s petition said the pension case “raises important questions” about states’ rights to use police powers to modify contracts such as public pensions.

“The principal questions presented are (1) Whether the reserved powers doctrine prevents a State from abdicating its police powers authority to modify its own contractual obligations in extreme circumstances that imperil the general welfare and (2) If not, whether the Illinois Supreme Court identified the correct standard by which the validity of a State's exercise of its police power is judged."

The Attorney General's office cited Illinois Solicitor General Carolyn Shapiro and Assistant Attorney General Clifford Berlow's caseloads, vacations, and other duties in its request for a 35-day extension.