CHICAGO — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants to leave the door open for a possible U.S. Supreme Court appeal after the state's high court voided a 2013 state pension system overhaul.
Madigan's office is downplaying its request for an extension on the time it has to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case as a signal that such a move is coming.
The office called the filing routine and stressed that no decision has been made.
"We have asked for an extension of the deadline to file a cert petition, which is fairly routine request," the office said in a statement. "With the decision in the city of Chicago's pension case late last week, we are continuing to consider all of the arguments and the best next step."
The Illinois Supreme Court in May overturned the legislation overhauling four of the state's five pension funds saying it violated the state constitution's pension clause that protects benefits against being diminished or impaired. A lower court judge last Friday voided Chicago's 2014 legislation cutting benefits for two of the city's four funds drawing heavily from the justices' conclusions in their May opinion.
The city and state offered differing legal defenses. The state argued the cuts were warranted under its sovereign police powers — granted under both the state and U.S. constitutions -- to deal with a fiscal emergency.
The city argued cuts were justified as part of a larger plan that provided higher employer contributions and saved the funds from insolvency in the next decade and secondly, that a majority of unions agreed to the cuts in exchange for preservation of the funds' solvency and some other new rights.
After the high court's May ruling, Madigan's office said it had no plan to appeal.
"The court has provided a definitive interpretation of the constitution that must now guide the legislature and the governor going forward," the office then said.
In a petition filed Monday, Madigan asks Justice Elena Kagan to extend for 35 days to Sept. 10 the time during which the state may file a certiorari petition asking the high court to review the Illinois Supreme Court's decision.
The state is asking for the extension to give it more time to review the Chicago ruling handed down by a Cook County Circuit Court judge and notes the busy schedule of its own lead state pension case attorneys on other cases.
"This case raises important issues regarding the reserved powers doctrine of the United States constitution which prohibits a state from surrendering 'an essential attribute of its sovereignty' including its 'police powers' to modify contractual obligations in particular when exercising those powers is 'reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose," the filing reads.
The state could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the doctrine prevents a state from abdicating its police powers to in the face of contractual obligations and, if not, whether the state supreme court applied the correct standard, according to the filing.