By: Mark  Glennon*


The United States Supreme Court issued its written opinion in Bush v. Gore just one day after it heard oral arguments on the case, which decided the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. The case had gone through three previous courts in less than five weeks, which included detailed factual issues about “hanging chads” and all the rest.


The Illinois Supreme Court held oral arguments this March 11 on the pension reform law. The lower court ruling on which the appeal was based was rendered on November 21, 2014. The law at issue was passed in December 2013.


This delay is inexcusable. Bush v. Gore is just one example of how appellate courts can, and should, move extremely fast on critical and urgent matters, no matter how complex. The pension case, however, is as straightforward as it is grave, since it’s limited just one issue of law.


Specifically, only one real question is before the Illinois Supreme Court — whether, hypothetically, the “police power” argument that the state is too broke can validly be raised as reason for breaching the pension protection clause of the state constitution. There is no trial record to review. Facts have not even been argued because no trial has yet been held.


The oral arguments, unquestionably, were a waste of time. The Democratic majority on the court did not ask a single question. Their minds evidently were already made up — as they should be, because they have had all the necessary research and analysis in front of them. The questions that were asked all rehashed issues that had been thoroughly briefed in writing.


The Illinois Supreme Court has been thinking about the question at issue for almost a year, or at least should have been. It ruled last July that healthcare benefits are constitutionally protected just like pension benefits, and it indicated that no exceptions may be made.


No issue has ever come before the Illinois Supreme Court as consequential as this one for both the state and its local units of government. There’s nothing on the court’s docket remotely close in importance. The court’s delay is shameful.


*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.





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5 years ago

I love how people think you can erase a debt by simply passing a law that basically states “we are unilaterally lowering the amount we owe you”. The only thing more ridiculous than that is when I see people talking about changing the constitutional language to try the same thing. You CAN’T go back and pass laws to change contractual obligations…in this case reducing the states debt. Please reference the US constitution Article 1 Section 10 Clause 1 regarding passing laws impairing obligations of contracts. Changing the Illinois constitution would only allow you to promise pension benefits and then pull… Read more »

Mark Glennon
5 years ago

The weight of authority is that the U.S. Constitutional provisions, both the contract clause and the ex post facto clause, would not be obstacles, though the issues would be litigated. You are simply wrong.

Some Body
5 years ago

LegIslation can absolutely affect past promises. What world do you live in?

Mike heger
5 years ago

There are fair comments on both sides. First the Illinois legislature created much of this issue by underfunding their pension obligations. In effect they borrowed from the pensions to pay for other projects etc. the IMRF pension is fully funded because local governments were forced to pay pension cost, just like all Social Security employers and employees do. Instead of paying the pension obligation, thr legislature took the easy way out, balancing budgets by not putting in proper payments for years. A way the state could easily raise substantial funds would be to make pension benefits subject to Illionois income… Read more »

5 years ago
Reply to  Mike heger

Even worse than the Illinois legislature and Governors underfunding the pensions, is the Illinois legislature and Governors passing legislation to hike pension benefits that were already underfunded. And during annual state budgeting at times the Illinois legislature and Governors diverted funding from pensions to salary hikes. Both which served to hike underfunded pensions. Many IMRF funds are not fully funded. Each taxing district which participates in IMRF has its own IMRF “fund” (some taxing districts have more than one IMRF “fund” since there are different types of IMRF programs such as SLEP, ECO, etc.). Even before the 2008 meltdown there… Read more »

5 years ago

No matter what the decision by the Supreme Court, the pension sentence added in 1970 must be repealed. Repeal the Pension & Retiree Healthcare Hiking Clause. The sentence resulted in the hiking of Pension and Retiree Healthcare benefits for public sector workers at taxpayer expense (yes we know public sector workers are taxpayers too). We are wasting too much time and money attempting different alternatives. The unions and lobbyists and many politicians have made it clear the don’t want to renegotiate their pension and retiree healthcare benefit HIKES. The problem is not the pension and retiree healthcare benefits in 1970.… Read more »

James Gordon
5 years ago

You make it seem to be an easy decision, and as a dormer “downstate” teacher now retired under the TRS system I’d like to think that’s the case by hoping the IL Supreme Court simply reinforces the plain language of the IL Constitution’s pension clause. But, the reality is that there is a LOT to consider, and that rightly takes a lot of time to investigate and ponder. Then, there are untold consequences which will ensue no matter which decision is rendered. Let’s hope that they get it right and with as few unforeseen consequences regardless of the time it… Read more »