The Illinois Pension Reform Law has been found unconstitutional. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled that the Illinois Pension Reform Law was “unconstitutional and void in its entirety.”
Judge Belz found that the law “without question” violates the Illinois State Constitution, which states that public worker pensions cannot be “diminished or impaired.” Judge Belz stated in his seven page opinion, “The state of Illinois made a constitutionally protected promise to its employees concerning their pension benefits. Under established and uncontroverted Illinois law, the state of Illinois cannot break this promise.”
The court found that such constitutional protection of pensions is “plain and unambiguous.” Despite the overwhelming pension obligations facing the state of Illinois, the judge found that there “is no legally cognizable defense” to justify the diminishment of pension benefits.
According to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the ruling will be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. The appeal will skip the appellate court. Law makers are hoping that the Illinois Supreme Court will provide some guidance on how to craft a pension reform law.
The ruling from Judge Belz closely follows the reasoning from Kanerva v. Weems (See August 2014, Extra Mile), a Supreme Court decision this past July where the Court ruled that certain retiree health benefits areprotected by the Illinois Constitution. The Supreme Court itself indicated in Kanerva v. Weems that any diminishment in pension benefits would likely be found to be unconstitutional.
Contact Barb Erickson or Heather Brickman with your employee benefit and pension inquiries.