Illinois Supreme Court says state must pay judicial raises

Friday, July 25, 2003

CHICAGO -- The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the state's comptroller to pay salary increases for Illinois judges that were vetoed by the governor.

State Comptroller Daniel Hynes earlier this week said he would not include a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase when he prints judges' paychecks because the state did not appropriate the money.

The salary increase was scheduled to go into effect at the end of July for more than 1,000 Illinois judges.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed pay raises for the state's constitutional officers, judges and lawmakers earlier this month as part of $22 million in cuts to the state budget. The cuts were made in response to an estimated $5 billion budget deficit.

He also vetoed legislation Thursday that would have retroactively granted judges cost-of-living increases that were canceled last year.

"Providing a pay increase to judges that would cost taxpayers nearly $4 million is inappropriate, ill-timed, unnecessary," Blagojevich said Thursday in a statement.

Judges argue that, unlike raises, cost-of-living increases are a basic part of their salary. Canceling them violates the Illinois Constitution's ban against decreasing judges' salaries, they say.

The court order contends the governor's veto removed funding for the judicial salary increases but not the legal obligations to pay it. It also notes that no branch of government has the ability to direct expenditures of another branch.

The order was signed by all seven Supreme Court justices and delivered to the comptroller's office, said Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor.

Officials with the state comptroller's office declined comment except to say the matter was under review.

Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, said the court order "nullifies" the governor's veto.

"The Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the constitution and this is a constitutional question," Lubet said, because the constitution says that judicial salaries cannot be diminished while they are in office.

He added that it's very unusual for the court to issue an order rather than require a judge to file a lawsuit, which would have allowed the comptroller to argue its case.

Harold Krent, dean of Chicago-Kent College of Law, said the comptroller can either pay the salary increases or resist, which could invite a contempt sanction.

Failing to comply could also create a constitutional crisis, Krent said, because there's no clear enforcement if the executive branch defies a court order.

Tybor said state law defines regular cost-of-living increases as a part of existing salaries.

"As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, this has nothing to do with politics," Tybor said. "What this deals with is upholding the Illinois Constitution."

Court administrative officials sent two letters to Hynes in recent weeks requesting that he print paychecks with the salary increases, according to the order. In response to letter, assistant comptroller Don Templeman wrote this week his office could not do so unless the General Assembly overrode the governor's veto.

Judicial salaries range from $127,247 for associate circuit judges to $158,103 for justices of the Supreme Court.

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