The Honorable John Belz handed down his ruling today from the 7th Judicial Circuit Court stating that pension rights are constitutionally protected for retirees in Illinois.
"I am encouraged by the ruling made today by Judge Belz," said Bob Pinkerton, President of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association. "I remain hopeful that this decision, and the previous verdict made by the Supreme Court on Kanerva, will once and for all determine that Senate Bill 1 is unconstitutional and reiterate that the pension protection clause means pension benefits for current workers and retirees cannot be changed."
Senate Bill 1 would cut a retiree's cost-of-living adjustments, increase the retirement age of current employees and make unconstitutional cuts to the pensions of working and retired members of the Teachers' Retirement System. Now that Judge Belz has ruled on the case, the IRTA and other organizations involved in the lawsuit are preparing for the Attorney General's Office to continue the fight by taking their argument for the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1 to the Supreme Court (IRTA).
“Laws impairing the obligation of contracts are contrary to the first principles of the social compact and to every principle of sound legislation… One legislative interference is but the first link of a long chain of repetitions” (James Madison).
“The power of changing the relative situation of debtor and creditor, of interfering with contracts, a power which comes home to every man, touches the interest of all, and controls the conduct of every individual in those things which he supposes to be proper for his own exclusive management, had been used to such an excess by the state legislatures, as to break in upon the ordinary intercourse of society, and destroy all confidence between man and man. This mischief had become so great, so alarming, as not only to impair commercial intercourse and threaten the existence of credit, but to sap the morals of the people and destroy the sanctity of private faith…” (Chief Justice Marshall).
Eighty years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland stated: “The framers wrote the Contract Clause for the very reason that they feared emergencies unwisely tempt legislatures to loosen contract rights… [The] meaning of constitutional provisions [at both state and federal levels] is changeless; it is only their application which is extensible… [W]hatever tends to postpone or retard the enforcement of a contract, to that extent weakens the obligation.”
I have written many times that to possess a right to a promised deferred compensation, such as a pension, is to assert a legitimate claim with all Illinois legislators to protect that right. There are no rights without obligations. They are mutually dependent. Fulfilling a contract is a legal and moral obligation justified by trust among elected officials and their constituents.
The keeping of contractual promises is the Illinois General Assembly’s legal duty. It is something the State and U.S. Constitutions require them to do whether they want to or not. All citizens of the State of Illinois have legal justification for their rights, especially for compensation they have earned. For rights and obligations are logically correlative, and a citizen’s rights imply or complement the legislators’ obligation to guarantee them.
There is nothing ambiguous or vague about these decrees:
“No State shall…pass any…ex post facto law or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts…” (The Constitution of the United States, Article 1—Limitations on Powers of States, Section 10).
“No ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts…shall be passed” (The Constitution of the State of Illinois, Article I—Bill of Rights, Section 16).
“Each prospective holder of a State office or other State position created by this Constitution, before taking office, shall take and subscribe to the following oath or affirmation: ‘I do solemnly swear (affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of…to the best of my ability’” (The Constitution of the State of Illinois, Article XIII—Oath or Affirmation of Office, Section 3).
“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired” (The Constitution of the State of Illinois, Article XIII—Pension and Retirement Rights, Section 5).
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” (Challenging Public Employees’ Earned Constitutionally-Guaranteed Benefits:17 Antedated Illinois Court Cases).
If there is anything else we might examine regarding the Pension 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 liars and thieves.
As stated, the foundation of public employees’ and retirees’ rights is the State and U.S. Constitutions that directly support any claims against them. State contracts are also protected by the federal government. Understandably, the 5th and 14th amendments of the United States Constitution protect due process of law. In Illinois, the legal bases for protection of past-and-future public pension rights are established in both constitutions (Illinois Pension Reform Is without Legal and Moral Justification).
Currently, Illinois Public employees and retirees are confronting a violation to the Pension and Contract Clauses, the taking of property without due process of law, and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the equal protection of the laws. Senate Bill 1 is a foul attack on public employees’ and retirees’ rights to constitutionally-guaranteed benefits. An unconscionable challenge of those rights and benefits is a serious threat, not only to current public employees and retirees and their families but, to every Illinois citizen. A pension is a contract. Breaking a contract can never be legally or morally justified.
What all citizens of Illinois can accurately predict about future contracts with state legislators who believe they have the “power to interfere with the obligations of contracts [that are] specifically denied to the states [in Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution]” is that if Illinois legislators “can declare an emergency to exist and abrogate one provision of [both State and U.S. Constitutions]…, ‘this decision serves notice upon [every citizen of Illinois], who heretofore had trusted in the constitutions for protection and believed in the sanctity of a contract, that the constitutions are no longer a guarantee nor security against the abrogation of a proper and legal contract’” (John A. Fliter and Derek S. Hoff, Fighting Foreclosure: The Blaisdell Case, the Contract Clause, and the Great Depression).
It is a matter of moral and legal concern for every citizen of Illinois to pay attention to any violations of rights and benefits of the state’s 693,000 public employees. It should be of vital concern for all citizens that the government of Illinois would want to prove its contracts are worthless, especially when the “most basic purposes of the impairment [of the contract] clause [Article XIII, Section 5] as well as notions of fairness that transcend the clause itself, point to a simple constitutional principle: government must keep its word” (Laurence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law).
Illinois legislators are not dealing with a threat to the “public’s safety, health, and morals as well as peace, well-being and order of the state”; nor are they dealing with an economic emergency of such magnitude that they are compelled to invoke powers to protect the state's citizens and, thus, serve a “reasonable public purpose or need.” This is a dishonest assault on the public servants and retirees who have devoted their lives for the service of others.
“[T]he notion that the Pension Clause is subject to a police powers exception has already been rejected by Illinois courts on two occasions… [T]he State’s police power is not superior to the Pension Clause; rather it yields to the Clause, just as it yields to other specific constitutional prohibitions and positive mandates. Also, the Pension Clause cannot be equated with the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution as inherently containing or being subject to exceptions based on notions of necessity… The Pension Clause, in contrast, does not have such a history or intent to accommodate exceptions based on claims of necessity…
“[T]he likelihood of a police power defense succeeding to vindicate Public Act 98-0599 should be at best an extremely remote outcome, especially because of the Clause’s plain language, drafting history, and purpose, and because of Illinois’ long-standing and conscious failure to fund the pension systems…
“[Let us remain confident that when the Illinois Supreme Court reviews] the plain language of the Illinois Constitution’s Pension Protection Clause [Article XIII, Section 5] as courts in this State have confirmed, this language [will also be deemed] crystal clear. Public employees become members of a pension system at the time of hire or shortly thereafter and, once they become members, their pension rights are set and cannot be ‘diminished or impaired…” (Eric M. Madiar, former Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate).
Let us remain confident the Supreme Court judges will uphold the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions as they have in the past; that these judges are not capable of illegal, immoral thievery like the political opportunists who had voted for Senate Bill 1 (Illinois Senate Bill 1, the So-called “Pension Reform” Bill (or Attempt to Break a Constitutional Contract with Public Employees and Retirees)).