Subject Illinois’s Pension-Protection Clause To Federal Challenge

The state’s deepening fiscal crisis will end when an ordinary citizen, who is not a public employee, successfully challenges the Illinois constitution’s ‘pension-protection clause’ in a federal court.

The pension-protection clause is vulnerable to challenge because it violates the US Constitution’s guarantee that all citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law. Whereas the Fourteenth Amendment forbids any state from denying ‘any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,’ the pension clause of the Illinois constitution defines a special class of citizens and protects it at the expense of others.

For too long, Illinois citizens have been told that they must live by this extraordinarily punitive and unfair provision, which is driving up the cost of government in order to benefit one special sub-population: public employees whose pensions and benefits the state guarantees.

Illinoisans are so used to living with this provision of their constitution that they don’t even stop to think how extraordinary it is. What other monetary benefit in our society enjoys such a complete guarantee? Medicare? No. Social Security? No. Private pensions? No. Food stamps? No. Despite Americans’ extensive reliance on such benefits, none of them enjoys a constitutional guarantee. Any of these benefits can be changed, diminished, or completely taken away.

Whereas the ordinary Illinois citizen must tolerate uncertainty, those lucky enough to belong to the ‘right club’ can be confident that their benefits can never be lessened or removed. In fact, Illinois’s pension-protection clause defines a special class of citizens in terms of their distinctive relationship to the state and then confers unassailable privileges on them:

Membership in any pension or retirement system of the
State, any unit of local government or school district, or
any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an
enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which
shall not be diminished or impaired.

“Membership . . . shall be a relationship”: that’s the key phrase. Those who choose to work in Illinois’s public sector become members of a club whom the state apparatus will protect no matter what. Those of us who are not public workers are out of luck. Not only do ordinary Illinois citizens lack the equal protection under this law, but, because of it, their own financial security is being actively impaired, and the public welfare of Illinois is gradually being sacrificed to secure the well being of one special class in perpetuity.

As matters stand, Illinois’s pension-protection clause has become the yardstick against which any pension-reform legislation must be fearfully measured. The state courts are firm in their devotion to this provision, which benefits everyone in Illinois government, including judges themselves. Sensible, hard-won pension-reform legislation has been struck down while legality of this patently odious and in-egalitarian provision has gone unchallenged.

Illinois citizens must stand up and challenge the constitutionality of Illinois’s pension provision in the federal courts. A provision leading to such unfair and destructive outcomes is an affront to the larger purposes of government. It penalizes the bulk of Illinois’s population while extending extraordinary protections to public workers. It’s time for those penalized to ask: “What about me?”

Copyright Susan Barsy

Bike messengers by Lewis Hine

Percy Neville in the heart of the Red Light district. Just come out of one of the houses with message (which see in his hand).  He said gleefully "She gimme a quarter tip." . . .  Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.

Percy Neville in the heart of the Red Light district. Just come out of one of the houses with message . . . . He said gleefully “She gimme a quarter tip.” . . . Location: Shreveport, Louisiana.  1913.

Curtin Hines.  Western Union messenger #36. Fourteen years old.  Goes to school.  Works from four to eight P.M.  Been with W[estern] U[nion] for six months, one month delivering for a drug store. "I learned a lot about the 'Reservation' while I was at the drug store and I go there some times now." Location: Houston, Texas.

Curtin Hines. Western Union messenger #36. Fourteen years old. Goes to school. Works from four to eight P.M.  Been with W[estern] U[nion] for six months, one month delivering for a drug store. “I learned a lot about the ‘Reservation’ [red-light district] while I was at the drug store and I go there some times now.”  Location: Houston, Texas.  1913.

Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company.  Said fifteen years old.  Exposed to Red Light dangers.  Location: Waco, Texas.

Messenger boy working for Mackay Telegraph Company.  Said fifteen years old.  Exposed to Red Light dangers.  Location: Waco, Texas.  1913.

Earle Griffith and Eddie Tahoory, working for the Dime Messenger Service. They said they never knew when they were going to get home at night.  Usually work one or more nights a week, and have worked until after midnight.  They said last Christmas their office had a 9 yr. old boy running errands for them, and that he made a great deal of money from tips. They make about $7 a week and more, sometimes.  Said "The office is not allowed to send us into the red light district but we go when a call sends us.  Not very often." Location: Washington DC.

Earle Griffith and Eddie Tahoory, working for the Dime Messenger Service.  They said they never knew when they were going to get home at night.  Usually work one or more nights a week, and have worked until after midnight.  They said last Christmas their office had a 9 yr. old boy running errands for them, and that he made a great deal of money from tips.  They make about $7 a week and more, sometimes.  Said “The office is not allowed to send us into the red light district but we go when a call sends us.  Not very often.”  Location: Washington DC.  1912.

Selling during school hours, 10:30 A.M.  Location: Syracuse, New York.

Selling during school hours, 10:30 A.M.  Location: Syracuse, New York.  1910.

Wilbur H. Woodward, 428 Third St., NW, Washington, DC, Western Union messenger 236, one of the youngsters on the border-line, (15 yrs. old) works until 8 P.M. only.  Location: Washington DC.

Wilbur H. Woodward, 428 Third St., NW, Washington, DC, Western Union messenger 236, one of the youngsters on the border-line, (15 yrs. old) works until 8 P.M. only.  Location: Washington DC.  1912.

Eleven-year-old Western Union messenger #51.   J.T. Marshall.  Been day boy here for five months.  Goes to Red Light district some and knows some of the girls.  Location: Houston, Texas.

Eleven-year-old Western Union messenger #51. J.T. Marshall. Been day boy here for five months. Goes to Red Light district some and knows some of the girls. Location: Houston, Texas.  1913.

Danville Messengers.  The smallest boy, Western Union No. 5, is only ten years old, and is working as extra boy.  He said he was going to be laid off as the manager told him he was too young, but an older messenger told me the reason was that the other messengers were having him put off because he cuts into their earnings. Location: Danville, Virginia.

Danville Messengers. The smallest boy, Western Union No. 5, is only ten years old, and is working as extra boy. He said he was going to be laid off as the manager told him he was too young, but an older messenger told me the reason was that the other messengers were having him put off because he cuts into their earnings. Location: Danville, Virginia.  1911.

Manley Creasson, 914 W. 6 St. Messenger #6, Mackay Telegraph Co. Says he is 14; school records say 13. Says he has steady job-- "Been a messenger for years. Get $15 for 2 weeks' pay."  Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Manley Creasson, 914 W. 6 St. Messenger #6, Mackay Telegraph Co. Says he is 14; school records say 13. Says he has steady job– “Been a messenger for years. Get $15 for 2 weeks’ pay.” Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  1917.

Since these boys stared into Lewis Hine’s camera a century ago, the status of American children has improved in some ways but not others.  Back then, children were prone to become whatever the economic situations of their families required.  The children of farmers were often pressed into lives of drudgery, while others followed the trend of modernization, working in the street trades if they were city dwellers, or in mills, mines, and factories, all to stave off the want of individual and family poverty.

At the time, millions of children worked, sometimes at the expense of attending school.  According to Robert Whaples of Wake Forest University, in 1900, 26.1 percent of all American boys aged 10-15 held a job of some kind. (The percentage of girls that age who worked was much lower.)  Progressive reformers worked to restrict child labor, pointing out the harms–whether physical, mental, or moral–that work could have on such young people.

Lewis Hine (1874-1940) photographed thousands of child workers during his sixteen-year tenure with the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC).  Besides taking photographs, he talked with his subjects and took notes, information that later found its way into the captions and into investigative reports for the Committee.  Over five-thousand of these NCLC photographs survive.  Boys who were messengers for the telegraph company or for drug stores were among those working in the various street trades.

Hines focuses on the hardships and on the boys’ unfortunate and degrading exposure to vice, but he also captures the boys’ satisfaction and pride.  Some sit beaming on their bikes, or nonchalantly showing off their uniforms, proud to be making it, to be doing something, proud even of ferrying across the boundary between right and wrong.

They exude a different sort of mentality than impoverished youth of today, who have no legitimate means of escaping or redressing the poverty and crime that envelop their families.

All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Click here to see more of Hine’s photographs.


The bicycle starts a revolution

A couple dressed in cycling clothes congratulates themselves for leaving the cumbersome fashions of the nineteenth century behind.
THE BICYCLE possessed some kind of magic, its mute presence transforming American society.  Originally known as a velocipede, the bicycle had been around since the early nineteenth century, but only after 1890 did the contraption become safer and gain popularity throughout the States as something associated with freedom and pleasure. Continue reading

Why not challenge the constitutionality of Illinois’s pension-protection clause?

Illinois citizens are expected to sit tight as the cost of meeting state and local pension obligations brings their government ever nearer to bankruptcy.  Everyday, we hear of a new head-ache: how our property-taxes are likely to begin sky-rocketing, or how short-term borrowing to pay pensions will soon destroy Chicago’s bond rating, and how people are leaving the state to avoid being stuck with the costs when the looming disaster of all-out bankruptcy finally arrives.  Yet no matter how painful to the citizenry, our government must rake together the money for public-pension obligations that are burgeoning.

All because a section of the Illinois constitution stipulates that, no matter what, one class of Illinois citizens can count on protections that no others can: the benefits of belonging to a state pension system must not be diminished or impaired.  In the service of this constitutional provision, the state may be driven into bankruptcy and the rest of the population held forever accountable for promises that by-gone politicians irresponsibly made.  The needs of ordinary citizens are being choked off so that those of lawmakers and public workers may be fulfilled. Continue reading

Library of Congress Unveils Rare Civil War-Era Views

Fort Moultrie, No. 9 (Robin Stanford Collection, the Library of Congress)
The Library of Congress has acquired hundreds of rare stereographic views from Robin G. Stanford, a Houston woman whose collection focuses on the Civil War era and the South during and after the period it practiced slavery. Continue reading

An early aerial view of the University of Chicago

Aerial panoramic view of the Quads taken from west of Ellis Avenue.
George R Lawrence was a pioneer whose specialty was panoramic aerial photography.  A native of northern Illinois, he invented the means to take high-quality “bird’s eye” views using a camera hoisted aloft with balloons or kites.  His most famous photographs are of a ruined San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, but he also photographed Chicago, its waterfront and factories, and various towns nearby. Continue reading

Seattle’s Arboretum

 The undulating path through the center of the Arboretum blooms with cherry blossoms, crabapples, and magnolias in March.
While in Seattle, my husband and I visited the arboretum, which is easy to get to by cab from downtown.  At this time of year, it’s the place to visit—far better than any market or museum. Continue reading

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