Arizona Pension Case Could Chart Course for Illinois

Feb 21, 2014
Originally published on February 21, 2014 12:24 am

A court case decided in Arizona Thursday could have implications for Illinois' ongoing legal battle over pensions. The decision (pdf), by the Arizona Supreme Court, struck down an attempt to reduce Arizona officials' retirement benefits.

Illinois' law cutting government pensions isn't scheduled to take effect until summer. But employees are already suing, arguing their pensions are protected by the Illinois Constitution, which says benefits "shall not be diminished or impaired."

That very phrase is also in the Arizona Constitution, and was the basis of the Arizona Supreme Court's unanimous decision striking down a law that sought to reduce benefits there.

The question is: Will this have an effect in Illinois?

We asked Ann Lousin, a law professor who was on staff when the Illinois Constitution was drafted in 1970. She cautions that an Arizona case is not binding in Illinois. But, "on the other hand, all of these state constitutional provisions ... are substantively identical to each other," she says.

Because of that, Lousin says it's safe to say one state's decision on pensions would at least have a persuasive effect on cases in other states.

"In other words, the Illinois Supreme Court would look at what the Arizona Supreme Court has said today," Lousin says.

Illinois' pension cases are still in the early stages of the legal process.

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