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The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday endorsed the consolidation of local police and firefighter pension systems, a rare victory in a yearslong battle to find an answer to the state’s besieged retirement accounts.

The court’s unanimous opinion rejected claims by three dozen working and retired police officers and firefighters from across the state that the merger of 649 separate systems into two statewide accounts violated the state constitution’s guarantee that benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

For years, that phrase has flummoxed governors and legislatures trying to cut their way past decades of underfunding the retirement programs. Statewide pension systems covering teachers, university employees, state employees, judges and those working for the General Assembly are $141 billion shy of what’s been promised those current and retired workers. In 2015, the Supreme Court overturned lawmakers’ money-saving overhaul approved two years earlier.

Friday’s ruling, which does not affect pension programs in Cook County, which includes Chicago, deals with a law Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed in late 2019 intended to boost investment power and cut administrative spending for hundreds of municipal funds. The Democratic governor celebrated the unusually good pension news.

“We ushered in a new era of responsible fiscal management, one aspect of which has been consolidating over 600 local pension systems to increase returns and lower fees, reducing the burden on taxpayers,” Pritzker said in a statement.

It would appear to be working. As of 2021, the new statewide accounts together had a funding gap of $12.83 billion; a year later, it stood at $10.42 billion, a decline of 18.7%.

Additionally, data from the Firefighters’ Pension Investment Fund shows that through June 2023, the statewide fund had increased return value of $40.4 million while saving, through June 2022, $34 million in investment fees and expenses.

But 36 active and former first responders filed a lawsuit, claiming that the statewide arrangement had usurped control of their retirement benefits. They complained the law violated the pension-protection clause because they could no longer exclusively manage their investments, they no longer had a vote on who invested their money and what risks they were willing to take, and that the local funds had to pay for transitioning to the statewide program.

The court decreed that none of those issues concerned a benefit that was impaired. Beyond money, the pension-protection law only covers a member’s ability to continue participating or to increase service credits.


The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a challenge to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ability to fight fraud, part of a broad attack on regulatory agencies led by conservative and business interests.

The case before the justices Wednesday involves the Biden administration’s appeal of a lower-court ruling that threw out stiff financial penalties imposed on hedge fund manager George R. Jarkesy by the SEC.

The high court’s decision could have far-reaching effects on the SEC and other regulatory agencies, and it’s just one of several cases this term that could constrict federal regulators. The court’s conservative majority has already reined them in, including in last May’s decision sharply limiting their ability to police water pollution in wetlands.

Last year, a divided panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jarkesy and his Patriot28 investment adviser group on three separate issues.

It found that the SEC’s case against him, resulting in a $300,000 civil fine and the repayment of $680,000 in allegedly ill-gotten gains, should have been heard in a federal court instead of before one of the SEC’s administrative law judges.

The panel also said Congress unconstitutionally granted the SEC “unfettered authority” to decide whether the case should be tried in a court of law or handled within the executive branch agency. And it said laws shielding the commission’s administrative law judges from being fired by the president are unconstitutional.

Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote the appellate opinion, joined by Judge Andrew Oldham. Elrod was appointed by former President George W. Bush, and Oldham by former President Donald Trump.

Judge Eugene Davis, a nominee of former President Ronald Reagan, dissented.


U.S. Rep. George Santos stole the identities of donors to his campaign and then used their credit cards to ring up tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized charges, according to a new indictment.

He then wired some of the money to his own personal bank account, prosecutors said, while using the rest to inflate his campaign coffers.

The 23-count indictment filed Tuesday replaces one filed in May against the New York Republican charging him with embezzling money from his campaign and lying to Congress about his wealth, among other offenses.

In the updated indictment, prosecutors accuse Santos of charging more than $44,000 to his campaign over a period of months using cards belonging to contributors without their knowledge. In one case, he charged $12,000 to a contributor’s credit card and transferred the “vast majority” of that money into his personal bank account, prosecutors said.

Santos is also accused of falsely reporting to the Federal Elections Commission that he had loaned his campaign $500,000 when he actually hadn’t given anything and had less than $8,000 in the bank. The fake loan was an attempt to convince Republican Party officials that he was a serious candidate, worth their financial support, the indictment said.

“As alleged, Santos is charged with stealing people’s identities and making charges on his own donors’ credit cards without their authorization, lying to the FEC and, by extension, the public about the financial state of his campaign,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.

Santos came out of a two-hour Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol and told reporters he had no comment on the superseding indictment. “I was in conference like everyone else, without my phone, so I have nothing to say,” he said. He has previously maintained his innocence, claiming he is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

The new charges deepen the legal peril for Santos, who likely faces a lengthy prison term if convicted. So far, he has resisted all calls to resign, insisting he intends to run for reelection next year.


A dozen Philadelphia police officers who were fired or suspended for racist and violent social media posts can pursue a lawsuit against the city claiming their First Amendment rights were violated, a federal appeals court ruled.

The officers’ social media accounts were included in a database, published in 2019, that catalogued thousands of bigoted or violent posts by active-duty and former police officers in several states.

In Philadelphia, nearly 200 officers were disciplined, including 15 who were forced off the job. Twelve officers subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, asserting the police department had retaliated against them for exercising their First Amendment rights.

A federal judge dismissed the suit last year, agreeing with the city’s argument that the officers’ posts had undermined public trust in the department and violated the city’s social media policy.

The plaintiffs “played racist bingo, mocking as many ethnic or religious groups as possible,” U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker wrote last year.

In a ruling Thursday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it agreed the content was “offensive, racist and violent,” adding it does not “condone the officers’ use of social media to mock, disparage, and threaten the very communities they were sworn to protect.”

“Posts like the officers’ have the capacity to confirm the community’s worst fears about bias in policing,” the three-judge panel wrote.

But the court said Tucker’s decision to throw out the case was premature, given what it said was a lack of clarity over the provenance of some of the posts, which posts were the subject of discipline by the police department, and the “unadorned speculation” about the posts’ impact.

The court sent the case back to the lower court, saying the officers could continue to pursue their claims while noting they “undoubtedly face a steep uphill climb in ultimately proving their case.”


The indictment of former President Donald Trump will likely have little impact on the high stakes Wisconsin Supreme Court race to be decided next week, as Democrats try to flip majority control of the court with the fate of abortion access in the state on the line, those closely watching the contest said Friday.

Trump has not been directly involved in the race, did not endorse anyone, and the Republican-backed candidate has tried to distance his connections with the former president and the GOP. Additionally, Trump’s support among Republicans appears to be waning in the battleground state that he barely won in 2016 and then lost by a similar margin in 2020.

“While this (indictment) may get the juice flowing with some of his supporters, some may have a head shake and shoulder shrug,” said longtime Republican strategist and former state GOP party leader Brandon Scholz. “This indictment thing isn’t really tied into this race. It is a Trump issue.”

Charles Franklin, a pollster for the Marquette University Law School, said the indictment could spur a bump in turnout both among Trump’s most ardent supporters and his most fervent Democratic opponents. But he didn’t think it would fundamentally alter the dynamics of the Supreme Court race between Republican-backed Dan Kelly and Democratic-backed Janet Protasiewicz to be decided Tuesday.


With security threats to Supreme Court justices still fresh memories, Chief Justice John Roberts on Saturday praised programs that protect judges, saying that “we must support judges by ensuring their safety.”

Roberts and other conservative Supreme Court justices were the subject of protests, some at their homes, after the May leak of the court’s decision that ultimately stripped away constitutional protections for abortion. Justice Samuel Alito has said that the leak made conservative justices “targets for assassination.” And in June, a man carrying a gun, knife and zip ties was arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house after threatening to kill the justice, whose vote was key to overturning the court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Roberts, writing in an annual year-end report about the federal judiciary, did not specifically mention the abortion decision, but the case and the reaction to it seemed clearly on his mind.

“Judicial opinions speak for themselves, and there is no obligation in our free country to agree with them. Indeed, we judges frequently dissent — sometimes strongly — from our colleagues’ opinions, and we explain why in public writings about the cases before us,” Roberts wrote.

Polls following the abortion decision show public trust in the court is at historic lows. And two of Roberts’ liberal colleagues who dissented in the abortion case, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, have said the court needs to be concerned about overturning precedent and appearing political.

After the leak and threat to Kavanaugh, lawmakers passed legislation increasing security protection for the justices and their families. Separately, in December, lawmakers passed legislation protecting the personal information of federal judges including their addresses.

The law is named for the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, 20-year-old Daniel Anderl, who was killed at the family’s New Jersey home by a man who previously had a case before her.

Roberts thanked members of Congress “who are attending to judicial security needs.” And he said programs that protect judges are “essential to run a system of courts.”

In writing about judicial security, Roberts told the story of Judge Ronald N. Davies, who in September 1957 ordered the integration of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Davies’ decision followed the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling that segregated schools were unconstitutional and rejected Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus’ attempt to stop school integration.


Several Pennsylvania groups represented by the American Civil Liberties Union have filed suit in federal court seeking to have votes from mail-in or absentee ballots counted even if they lack proper dates on their return envelopes.

The suit filed Friday night in western Pennsylvania by state chapters of the NAACP, League of Women Voters, and Common Cause and other groups follows a state Supreme Court ruling last week that barred officials from counting ballots that lack accurate, handwritten dates on their return envelopes as required by state law.

The groups said refusing to count such ballots “because of a trivial paperwork error” could disenfranchise thousands of voters and would violate provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that immaterial errors or omissions should not be used to prevent voting.

“Refusing to count votes based on immaterial paperwork errors has a suppressive effect ... by erecting yet another roadblock preventing them from voting and having their votes counted,” the lawsuit said.

The groups —- which also included Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild, the Black Political Empowerment Project and Make the Road Pennsylvania — also said they would have to divert resources from voter mobilization and education to track down voters who omitted the date on the return envelopes of their ballots.

They are asking the court to bar election officials from rejecting otherwise valid ballots with missing or incorrect dates on the return envelope and to bar state and county governments from certifying any election in which such ballots are not counted.

The state Supreme Court had unanimously barred officials from counting such votes, directing county boards of elections to “segregate and preserve” those ballots, but the justices split 3-3 on whether making the envelope dates mandatory under state law would violate provisions of federal civil rights law.

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