As I mentioned earlier this week in discussing Performance Marketing, the Illinois Supreme Court has been a somewhat cool audience over the past ten years for constitutional claims. That’s why it was mildly surprising late last week to see the Court strike down two statutes in a single morning. The first, of course, was Performance Marketing, in which the Click-Through Act fell to a challenge under the Supremacy Clause. The second was The Board of Education of Peoria School District No. 150 v. Peoria Federation of Support Staff, in which a six-Justice majority, led by Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier, voided the 2010 amendments to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (“IPLRA”). Our detailed summary of the facts and lower court rulings is here. Our report on the oral argument is here.
The defendant union had been first certified to represent the 26 full-time and part-time security officers employed by the plaintiff in 1989 by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (“IELRB”), which administers the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (“IELRA”). But then came the 2010 amendments to the IPLRA, which removed “peace officers” employed by a “school district” in “its own police department in existence on the effective date of this amendatory Act” from the IELRA and placed them within the IPLRA. Why does it matter? Under the IELRA, the officers would have the right to strike. Under the IPLRA, the Board would not have the right to impose its final offer unilaterally, and labor disputes would go directly to interest arbitration. Since the officers’ union was so small – too small to have that much leverage in a strike – the union purportedly wanted interest arbitration rather than a right to strike.
But here’s the problem: on the day the 2010 amendments became effective, only one school district in Illinois employed its own police officers – the plaintiff. And since the statute appeared to open and close the affected class all on a single day, it seemed that the plaintiff was the only entity which would ever be subject to the Act. And the Illinois Constitution bans “special legislation” any time a “general law is or can be made applicable.”
The plaintiff school district sued the officers’ union, the IELRB and the Labor Relations Board (“ILRB”), which administers the IPLRA, seeking declarations that (1) the 2010 amendments were unconstitutional special legislation; and (2) the IELRA governed any labor disputes with the union, not the IPLRA. The Circuit Court granted the motion to dismiss filed by the two defendant Boards, holding that the amendments were not unconstitutional. The Appellate Court unanimously reversed, holding that the plaintiffs had made out a sufficient case that the amendments were unconstitutional to withstand a motion to dismiss (but not going the rest of the way and actually voiding the amendments).
The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Appellate Court and voided the 2010 amendments. The fatal problem, the Court held, was that even though there was nothing unique about the statute’s description of entities subject to its provisions – a school district employing its own security officers – the statute nevertheless closed the affected class on the date it became effective. School districts might opt to employ their own security officers in the future, and it was irrational not to extend the benefits of interest arbitration to them, the Court found. Since a “general law” could have been enacted, the 2010 amendments were necessarily void.
Chief Justice Kilbride added a short special concurrence, emphasizing that nothing about the Court’s opinion should be read as relaxing the Court’s holdings in a line of earlier authorities that the two boards have exclusive jurisdiction to hear disputes within their respective statutory schemes, subject to review only at the Appellate Court, not in the trial courts.