With pension lawsuits on horizon, Illinois Supreme Court justices take contributions from players in reform

It’s been less than a month since Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law the state’s massive pension overhaul. There have already been lawsuits filed against the legislation, and many more are expected in the near future.

If any of those lawsuits should end up in the Supreme Court of Illinois, the subsequent judgment would have lasting, important effects on pension politics in Illinois and beyond.

But can the Supreme Court justices be trusted to judge the case impartially? A new investigation into the justice’s campaign donations raises doubts.

The Chicago-Sun Times explains:

All told, state records show six of seven justices have taken close to a combined $3 million in campaign contributions tied to those with a stake in the pension debate: labor unions, business groups and a political committee controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who last month said the legislation could not have passed without his muscle.

The largest beneficiary of pension-related money is Democratic Justice Thomas Kilbride, a former chief justice of the court who in 2010 was immersed in the nation’s most expensive judicial retention battle in nearly a quarter century.

During that fight, Kilbride took in $1.47 million from the Democratic Party of Illinois, which is controlled by Madigan, the state party chairman. That fund chipped in another $688,000 in 2000, when Kilbride was first elected as a justice, assuring another decade-plus of Democratic control of the state’s highest court.

In his 2010 retention battle, Kilbride accepted another $467,360 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, $100,300 from AFSCME Council 31 and $16,000 from the Illinois AFL-CIO, all of which fought aggressively against the pension legislation Quinn signed.

For observers following Illinois’ pension reform, some of those organizations should sound familiar. The Illinois Federation of Teachers, for one, plans to file suit against the pension overhaul early in 2014. The Illinois AFL-CIO is part of the union coalition We Are One Illinois, a group that plans to file suit against the state’s pension law soon, as well.

There is one justice who appears to be clean: Justice Bob Thomas, according to the Sun-Times, is the only member of Illinois’ highest court not to have taken money from any players in the pension reform game.

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