News Local/State

Pension Case May Not Be Done: Signals It Could Go To U.S. Supreme Court

The outside of the building housing the Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield, IL (Alanscottwalker, Wikimedia Commons)

Illinois may not be done with the 2013 law reducing state employees’ pensions after all. The Attorney General appears to be readying to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

You may have thought the question of whether Illinois could save money by reducing state workers’ and retirees’ pensions was resolved; in May, the state’s Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled the answer is no, citing a clause in the state constitution that says retirement benefits cannot be diminished.

Illinois has until August 6th to appeal to the nation’s highest court.

While Attorney General Lisa Madigan hasn’t quite done that, it may well be on the horizon. Her office on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an extension, so it’ll have until Sept. 10 to do so.

John Fitzgerald, an attorney for retired public school teachers, says 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.”

The Attorney General’s petition says the pension case “raises important questions” about states’ rights to use police powers to modify contracts, like 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 cites 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. 

Illinois has roughly $100 billion in long-term pension debt.