May 8th went by with little fanfare.
Anne and I walked up to a neighborhood wine bar to toast the event.
Today a few fellow retirees will have lunch together and share stories of how May 8th became our unofficial Illinois Constitution Day.
When the Democrats led by Governor Pat Quinn and Speaker of the Illinois House voted to steal the pensions of Illinois’s public employees in December of 2013, they violated the language of the pension protection clause of the state constitution as well as their obligation to the rights of the citizens of the state of Illinois
On May 8th two years later the eight members of the Court said so.
“The General Assembly may find itself in crisis, but it is a crisis which other public pension systems managed to avoid and … it is a crisis for which the General Assembly itself is largely responsible,” Judge Karmeier wrote.
“It is our obligation, however, just as it is theirs, to ensure that the law is followed. That is true at all times. It is especially important in times of crisis when, as this case demonstrates, even clear principles and long-standing precedent are threatened. Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law. It is a summons to defend it,” he wrote.
Judge Karmeir said that if the state could steal our pensions because of a situation the state leaders themselves created, then nobody’s rights or properties were safe.
It is important to remember the role of the state’s union leadership prior to legislature passing pension theft.
There were two bills being considered at the time: Speaker Madigan’s pension theft and State Senate leader John Cullerton’s pension theft. Both are Democrats.
The We Are One Coalition of state public employee unions supported Cullerton’s bill on the basis that Madigan’s bill was worse. They did not believe that the Court would rule in our favor.
In fact, leaders of the Illinois Education Association like former IEA president Bob Haisman attacked as naive and anti-union those of us who refused to go along with the deal that they cut with Cullerton.
It was only the threat by the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, a relatively small organization of retired educators, to go to court over any diminishment of benefits, that put a wrench into the plan.
Our little band of retirees, activists and bloggers also opposed the betrayal by our union leadership.
I bring this up today not to say we told you so. I bring it up because the threats to the pensions of public employee’s remain and the leadership of the state’s public employee union’s willingness to compromise over principle in exchange for a seat at the table has not appeared to have changed either.
Call me “naïve” or an “idealist” for believing public employees and retirees have pension benefits that must be protected against being “diminished or impaired,” that an employee’s and retirees’ rights to a constitutionally-guarantee compensation and the legislators’ obligation to safeguard that promise should be found irrefutable in state and federal courts of law.
Because the foundation of citizens’ rights is the State and U.S. Constitutions, I believe that state contracts are protected; that the fifth and fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution protect due process of law, and that Article XIII, Section 5 of the Constitution of the State of Illinois also protects public employees’ and retirees’ pensions. I believe the legal basis for protection of past-and-future public pension benefits and rights are established in both constitutions unless, of course, they are foolishly traded away through consideration or modification of contract principles.
I wrote many times in this blog that a constitutional contract between the State of Illinois and its public employees must be viewed as a legal, moral commitment and requirement of justice, that justice demands we keep our covenants with one another, and keeping an agreement means a concern to promote the well-being of public employees and retirees and to secure their rights and benefits without any devaluation of the agreement.
New IEA officers were elected at last month’s state convention. Will they reject the past practice of supporting pension theft in exchange for a seat at the table?