High court orders pay hike

The Illinois Supreme Court has created a potential constitutional crisis in the state. The justices ordered state comptroller Dan Hynes to boost their pay from $158,103 per year to $162,530 a year. They also decreed the pay of other judges should be increased by nearly $4,000 a year.

Those cost-of-living increases were vetoed by Gov. Blagojevich, and he recently vetoed a bill that would have restored them.

“In a time when the economy continues to weaken,” said the governor, “providing a pay increase to judges that would cost the taxpayers nearly $4 million is inappropriate, ill-timed and unnecessary.”

Legal experts say if Hynes defies the court’s order, he could be held in contempt and jailed. The experts were greatly surprised that the court acted before any lawsuits on the salaries were filed. That is the usual procedure, and the first lawsuits were expected last weekend.

Northwestern University Law Professor Steve Lubet observed: “It is certainly strange to do it by virtue of an order where another side has not been able to present its side. One might have liked to see more deliberation.”

It appears to be more than a conflict of interest for the justices, but legal experts doubt a federal court would accept an appeal on Illinois judicial salaries. That leaves Hynes with little choice but to follow the court’s order.

“I think it’s a real constitutional crisis if he doesn’t comply,” Lubet said.

The state constitution bars the Legislature from reducing judges’ salaries. The high court declared that denial of the increases “diminishes” the pay under terms of the constitution.

Not all experts agree. Professor Ann Lousin of the John Marshall Law School said: “It means that the judges’ salary may not be lowered. It does not mean that the constitution requires that they have the same purchasing power.”

Gov. Blagojevich was firm in his opposition. He said the state faces a fiscal crisis, and cost-of-living increases have been cut for other high-level state employees. He declared that Circuit Court judges can get by on $137,000 a year rather than $140,000.

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