Key questions and answers in pension case

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Excerpts from three key exchanges between Illinois Supreme Court justices and lawyers making oral arguments Wednesday on the state’s pension reform law:

Justice Robert Thomas to Illinois Solicitor General Carolyn Shapiro: “If the court holds that the state can invoke its police powers to violate core constitutional guarantees, to respond to an emergency that, at least arguably, the state itself created, then aren’t we giving the state the power to modify its contractual obligations whenever it wants?”

Shapiro: “No, that’s not correct. For several reasons. First of all, invoking the police powers is not something that the state can do willy nilly. It can only occur in the context of a need to address an important public purpose.”

Chief Justice Rita Garman to plaintiffs’ lawyer Gino DiVito: “Does the police power ever allow [the state] to impair these pensions under any circumstances?”

DiVito: “Your honor, certainly not under these circumstances. Certainly not. It is absolutely clear that the intent of the drafters, when the General Assembly invoked fiscal problems, fiscal difficulties, not having enough money, it was absolutely clear that that was not a basis that could be relied upon.”

Justice Lloyd Karmeier to Shapiro: “If sovereign power resides in the people, and the people adopt a constitution which specifically provided for a pension clause having different wording than the contract clause . . . does that not indicate what the people, the sovereign, has given to the Legislature to act within?”

Shapiro: “The constitution restricts the state’s ability to act. [But] it cannot give away certain absolutely core and fundamental attributes of sovereignty, and the ability to protect the public welfare in extreme situations is one of those.”

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