Attorneys representing active employees and retirees participating in the state pension systems today urged the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court to uphold a Circuit Court decision declaring Senate Bill 1 (SB1, Public Act 98-599) unconstitutional and void.

During today’s hearing, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the state constitution’s pension protection clause means what it says: that membership in the state pension systems constitutes “…an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

Following the hearing, Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael T. Carrigan, speaking for the We Are One Illinois union coalition, said the 2013 pension law was both unconstitutional and grossly unfair.

IMG_2489“Over a lifetime of service, active and retired workers contributed to their pensions faithfully out of every paycheck,” Carrigan said. “Most of these public servants don’t qualify for Social Security, so their modest pensions are their life savings. Make no mistake: We’re here today due to the failure of politicians to pay the state’s share. Workers and retirees shouldn’t be punished for a problem they didn’t create.

“The framers of our constitution knew this day could come, when politicians might seek to avoid keeping their promises, opting instead to deny teachers, first responders, nurses, and other public employees and retirees their promised retirement. That’s why they made the language in the Illinois Constitution crystal clear,” Carrigan added.

“Instead of honoring their responsibility, politicians would force public servants alone to rectify the failure to adequately fund the pension systems in the first place. That’s unfair and unconstitutional, so we seek justice today from our state’s highest court.”

SB 1 reduces the value of pension benefits by one-third or more over 20 years in retirement by slashing cost-of-living adjustments and making other unfair, unconstitutional cuts to the pensions of working and retired members of the Teachers’ Retirement System, State Employees’ Retirement System, and State Universities Retirement System. The average pension benefit in these systems is approximately $32,000 a year.


News coverage of the hearing: Chicago Tribune, Reuters, AP


  1. I need some clarification.

    In a worst case scenario, and the Supreme Court rules against us, would the case then be referred to a lower court to determine if Illinois actually is in such financial straits as to justify abrogating the constitution?

    Further, if that lower court does hold that the state can use its police powers to unilaterally change our contract, shouldn't we be able to file a discrimination lawsuit since only our contract was singled out for changes?

    • The answer to the first question is "yes."

      Regarding the second question, while one can always file a lawsuit, it is highly likely it would be unsuccessful. Public pension system active members and annuitants would not be seen as a protected class for special protection under discrimination laws of equal protection constitutional provisions.

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