Friday, March 6, 2015

“The Defendants' Interpretation, Not the Circuit Court's, Would Create an 'Unworkable' Rule of Law”

“...The defendants criticize the circuit court for creating a new and ‘unworkable’ rule of law. (Def. Br. at 16.) That criticism is unfounded. The circuit court created no new rule of law. It merely applied the Pension Protection Clause according to its plain terms and according to the interpretation that Illinois courts have consistently given those plain terms over multiple decades.

“When the defendants say that this rule of law is ‘unworkable,’ what they presumably mean is that the State has fiscal problems, and that the political branches of the State government would prefer to address those problems by diminishing pension benefits.

“In a remarkable flight of fancy, the defendants describe a hypothetical ‘epidemic’ in which the State's pension obligations make it impossible to purchase and distribute a vaccine. (Def. Br. at 20.) They also describe a hypothetical scenario in which the State's pension obligations force it to ‘close its prisons and schools.’ Id. The defendants openly admit that ‘those precise circumstances may not be presented here.’ Id. But they argue that those non-existent facts should drive this Court's interpretation of the Pension Protection Clause. Id.

“If adopted, the defendants' proposed crisis-based legal standard would seriously distort constitutional law. Just as one can imagine a nightmare scenario in which the State's pension obligations render it incapable of saving the people from an epidemic, one can imagine all sorts of equally far-fetched hypotheticals in which virtually any constitutional restraint on legislative or executive power could have catastrophic consequences.

“For example, the Constitution provides that the State may tax incomes only ‘at a non-graduated rate.’ See Ill. Constitution, Art. IX, § 3(a). But what if the State needed to impose an income tax at a graduated rate in order to raise money to save the people from an epidemic? Does positing that hypothetical mean that the State now may tax incomes at a graduated rate as long as the tax is deemed reasonable and necessary to serve an important State interest?

“Likewise, the Constitution limits a governor's term to four years. See Ill. Constitution, Art. V, §§ 1, 2. But what if a governor needed to extend his term to five years in order to save the people from epidemics or terrorist attacks? Even if one could plausibly imagine such a scenario, that does not mean that every governor's term is now subject to an open-ended balancing test. Our constitutional law is grounded in the text of the Constitution (see, e.g., People v. Purcell, 201 III. 2d 542, 549 (2002)), not in doomsday scenarios…”

from Brief of ISEA RSEA Heaton and Harrison Plaintiffs-Appellees

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