By JOHN KINDT
The case of Bambenek v. Illinois Board of Elections filed by John Bambenek on Oct. 17 has catalyzed new statewide opposition to the 700-word constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
Sparking widespread opposition to the proposed amendment, the Bambenek case has catapulted the electorate's angst to the attention of state leaders in Springfield. In an Oct. 28 Chicago Tribune article, Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesperson tried to trivialize legal concerns by marginalizing legal critics, including law Professor Ann Lousin of John Marshall Law School.
The Bambenek case and legal academics have been exposing the constitutional irregularities inherent in the proposed amendment — including the amendment's purported attempt to override and eliminate the current 1970 Constitution's clause protecting earned benefits.
Despite the timeliness of the Bambenek case, Bambenek's attorney, Mark Hewitt, has indicated that the court will probably not schedule the case for a hearing until after the November election, because if the electorate votes "no," the case would be moot.
However, if the electorate approves Speaker Madigan's amendment, then Attorney General Lisa Madigan will be compelled to defend the amendment against Bambenek's allegations — fast-tracking the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The Bambenek case complains that the 700-word amendment is not even printed on the ballot. Furthermore, the Bambenek case alleges that Illinois procedural laws have been violated by the positioning of the introductory "warning," as well as by the "one-sentence explanation" following the warning. Apparently, the amendment's title is also misidentified on ballots.
Exactly one week after the Bambenek case was filed, the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 24 indicated its opposition to the constitutional amendment. Also currently on record as opposing the amendment are the Chicago Sun-Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Southern Illinoisan and several other newspapers.
Significantly, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters also urges a "no" vote on the amendment.
Perhaps serendipitous to the Bambenek case and the Chicago Tribune's opposition, on Oct. 24 a new political campaign committee was established entitled "We Are One Opposed to the Constitutional Amendment." This committee quickly raised a reported $550,000 and has coalesced several old groups and many new organizations now opposing the amendment.
Contributing organizations to the committee include educational heavyweights, such as the National Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association. Other contributing groups include several unions including Illinois AFSCME, national AFSCME and the AFL-CIO in a leadership role.
As the public opposition continues to grow, more legislators have reconsidered their initial support of the amendment and are now indicating their inclinations to vote "no." Notably, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel apparently met recently with opponents who urged him publicly to withdraw Chicago's initial support for the amendment.
Under the subtitle "Ethics Act Restrictions," a recent Springfield legislative memo cites to the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and states that a legislative "member may discuss his or her support for passage of HJRCA 49 (the Constitutional Amendment) during the Spring legislative session, but should refrain from advocating for or against passage by the electorate."
At first glance, this memo appears intimidating to those legislators who may be having second thoughts, and arguably the memo implies that those legislators should be concerned about an Ethics Act violation.
Legal experts, including the ACLU, could easily bristle at this Springfield disregard for the First Amendment's protection of free speech — particularly on a public issue that threatens the earned benefits of teachers and public sector employees.
Political scientists warn that the vote on the constitutional amendment is a test of the gullibility of Illinois voters.
If Springfield spin can persuade voters to approve a 700-word constitutional amendment which is not even printed on the ballot, then Springfield has a "blank check" to do anything the leadership wishes — without consequences from the electorate.
Political scientists summarize that "If you trust Springfield, vote YES on the amendment, but if you don't trust Springfield, vote NO."
University of Illinois Emeritus Professor John Kindt holds three law degrees and has often testified as an academic before Congress and state legislatures regarding business and legal policy issues.