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Sunday, July 13, 2014
An Examination of the Illinois “Pension Protection Clause,” or What Part of These Words Do Politicians Not Understand?
“[A] plain language reading of the Pension Clause’s text makes clear that governmental entities may not reduce or eliminate a public employee’s pension payments and other membership entitlements once the employee becomes a pension system member… Further, the Clause’s prohibitory language against the diminishment or impairment of pension benefits is cast in absolute terms and lacks any exceptions…”
We have witnessed a barrage of dishonest editorials that have omitted significant contextual information about the Pension Protection Clause, commentaries that have used misleading analogies and other deliberate misinformation to foment envy and anger for public employees who have earned constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefit rights.
To challenge the Pension Protection Clause is to defy common understanding of its legal and moral principles and to believe that every word in the State and U.S. Constitutions might also be interpreted in an infinite, fabricated regression.
There is nothing transcendental or metaphysical about these 26 words: “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State… shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” (Constitution of the State of Illinois, Article XIII, Section 5. Pension and Retirement Rights).
It does not require intuitive or a priori thinking to justify or verify this claim because we have learned the English language and the rules governing its use. We know what these words mean in relation to written, verbal, historical and cultural contexts.
Lexical definitions, denotations and connotations of the words “diminishment” and “impairment” are unequivocal. It is not necessary to break down these words into simple constituent parts unless, of course, we simply misunderstand them because of stupidity, carelessness, intentionality or maliciousness. The plain words of the Pension Protection Clause are intelligible.
We cannot mistake the meaning of words such as “shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” because we understand and speak the English language. If words in our State Constitution are to refer or mean anything, they must be commonly understood and accepted as they have been for decades. Moreover, if words are to refer to anything, they must also be understood through their use, role, employment and past agreements.
We have before us “the validity of decades of judicial precedents” that provide “the binding nature of legislation establishing pension commitments to government employees” (Defending and Protecting Public Employees’ Pensions against the Legislative Siege).
If there is anything else we might examine regarding the Pension Protection Clause and its relationship to a reality that reveals repeated attempts by the wealthy elite, their politicians and the media to steal constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefit rights, perhaps we should also dispute the relentless attacks on the very intelligibility of the English language by these liars and thieves. We know the Pension Protection Clause is valid because it is understood to be a contractual right and guarantee that public employees have earned.
Though incompetent, corrupt politicians and their wealthy benefactors continue to ignore legal and moral terminologies and court precedents, logical and ethical people understand the essential history and necessity of the Pension Protection Clause and know what it also means to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions.
It is quite unfortunate when some politicians/lawyers swear an oath to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions in one context and then contradict their pledge in another context, made evident in Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s and Attorney Joshua Ratz’s sidestepping arguments or attempt to use “reserved sovereign powers” to break a constitutional contract (The Contract Clause and the State of Illinois’“reserved sovereign powers” in Senate Bill 1).
Logical and ethical people know that the context which states “membership in any pension or retirement system of the State… shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” emerged because “prior to the [Pension Protection] Clause’s adoption, nearly all public employees were members of mandatory pension plans that lacked constitutional protection as ‘contractual’ rights and could be adversely changed by the legislature at any time. These mandatory plans were also underfunded and no better funded than the State’s five pension systems today...
“[Logical and ethical people know] public employees believed constitutional protection was necessary because the State had historically failed to make its required contributions and because employees felt that the State would renege on its obligations should a fiscal crisis arise…
“[Logical and ethical people know] the drafters of the Pension Protection Clause were aware of the concerns raised and requests made by public employee groups, the State’s failure to properly fund the pension system, and the difference in legal protection afforded to persons participating in a mandatory and optional pension plan. These concerns, in turn, prompted the drafters to include the Pension Protection Clause in the  Constitution…
“[Logical and ethical people also know] the drafters intended for the Pension Protection Clause to (1) protect pension benefit rights in all pension plans as ‘enforceable contractual rights’ as of when a public employee became a member of a pension system, and (2) bar the legislature from later unilaterally reducing those rights…” (qtd. in Illinois Pension Clause’s Convention Debates, Text and Historical Background, Eric M. Madiar).