Thursday, March 5, 2015

“[The Illinois Supreme] Court has rejected similar attempts to justify constitutional violations on the basis of financial necessity”

“…The defendants' attempt to justify the Act [Senate Bill 1] also is foreclosed by the fundamental principle that the ‘[Illinois] General Assembly cannot enact legislation that conflicts with specific provisions of the constitution, unless the constitution specifically grants the legislature that authority.’ O'Brien v. White, 219 III. 2d 86, 100 (2006).

“In other words, the General Assembly can have no implied power to do what the Constitution expressly prohibits. Rather, ‘limitations written into the Constitution are restrictions on legislative power.’ Client Follow-Up Co. v. Hynes, 75 III. 2d 208, 215 (1979).

“Put another way, ‘the constitution is not regarded as a grant of powers to the legislature but is a limitation upon its authority; the legislature may enact any legislation not expressly prohibited by the constitution.’ People ex rel. Chicago Bar Ass 'n v. State Bd. of Elections, 136 Ill. 2d 513, 525 (1990). Accordingly, an exercise of the police power ‘must not conflict with the Constitution.’ City of Belleville v. St. Clair Cnty. TPk. Co., 234 Ill. 428, 437 (1908).

“This Court's precedents make clear that no crisis can give the political branches of government the power to violate the Constitution. This principle has been applied specifically to enforce constitutional prohibitions against diminishing compensation owed to public servants, notwithstanding arguments based upon fiscal exigencies. See Jorgensen, 211 III. 2d at 316 (‘No principle of law permits us to suspend constitutional requirements for economic reasons, no matter how compelling those reasons may seem’); People ex rel. Lyle v. City of Chicago, 360 III. 25, 29 (1935) (‘Neither the Legislature nor any executive or judicial officer may disregard the provisions of the Constitution even in case of a great emergency’).

“As the appellate court explained in People ex rel. Northrup v. City Council of City of Chicago, 308 Ill. App. 284, 289 (1941), ‘an emergency cannot be created by the facts and used as a means of construction of a constitutional provision which has made no reference to any emergency by its terms.’

“As demonstrated by Lyle and Northrup, this principle was consistently applied by Illinois courts even during the Great Depression. The defendants attempt to distinguish Jorgensen and Lyle on the basis that they arose under separate constitutional provisions and implicated the separation of powers. (Def. Br. at 39-40.) The municipal judges in Lyle based their claims upon a provision of the 1870 Constitution that protected the salaries of municipal officers, not the Judicial Article. See 360 Ill. at 27-29 (the relators, municipal judges, were ‘municipal officers’). Thus, Lyle did not rest upon separation of powers principles. This fact also defeats the defendants' argument that Lyle drew a distinction between contract rights and judicial salaries. (Def. Br. at 39-40.)

Jorgensen did raise important concerns about the separation of powers, but the defendants' attempt to distinguish that case cuts too thin. Jorgensen was based on the ‘clear and unconditional’ terms of Article VI, § 14 of the Constitution (see 211 Ill. 2d at 305), which, like the Pension Protection Clause, guarantees that certain compensation shall not be ‘diminished.’

Jorgensen therefore is instructive here. Lyle and Northrup likewise were based upon ‘plain and unequivocal’ constitutional provisions that ‘contained nothing that expressly or impliedly authorized deviation from their terms . . . .’ Jorgensen, 211 111. 2d at 304 (discussing Lyle); Northrup, 308 Ill. App. at 289 (basing its holding on the fact that ‘[t]here are no words’ in the applicable constitutional guarantee of compensation ‘which make any reference, either directly or by implication, to the subject of an emergency’). Those cases support the plaintiffs' reliance here upon the equally plain and unequivocal language of the Pension Protection Clause.

“The defendants also invoke the adage that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. (Def. Br. at 43.) Setting aside whether such hyperbolic rhetoric is even appropriate under the circumstances presented here, this Court has consistently enforced the Illinois Constitution despite arguments premised on dire fiscal conditions. Even in the midst of the Civil War, this Court rejected the argument that adherence to a State constitutional provision would leave the State with ‘no adequate provision remaining to meet the ordinary expenses of the State government.’ People ex rel. Merchants' Say., Loan & Trust Co. of Chicago v. Auditor of Pub. Accounts, 30 Ill. 434, 445 (1863).

“This [Supreme] Court replied that the General Assembly was ‘clothed with ample powers to provide for all financial difficulties.’ Id. No financial difficulties, the Court explained, could justify violating the Constitution. Id. at 444. Rather, our ‘safety, in the midst of perils, is in a strict observance of the constitution—this is the bulwark to shield us from aggressions.’ Id…”

from Brief of ISEA RSEA Heaton and Harrison Plaintiffs-Appellees

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