Bethany Krajelis Dec. 10, 2014, 4:36pm

The Illinois Supreme Court will hear arguments in March over the closely-watched challenge to the state’s pension reform law.

In an order issued Wednesday, the court granted the state’s request to fast-track the consolidated case over an objection from opponents of the 2013 law that aimed to fix the state’s pension problems, but was deemed unconstitutional by a judge last month.

The justices gave the plaintiffs – state retirees, labor unions and others – a Jan. 12 deadline to submit their brief and supporting record. The state defendants, represented by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, have until Feb. 16 to turn in their brief with the plaintiffs’ reply brief due by Feb. 27.

Oral arguments will be scheduled for the court’s March 2015 term, according to the two-paragraph order.

The court’s accelerated briefing schedule comes less than a month after Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz struck down the pension reform legislation that was put on hold pending a court resolution.

In his six-page order handed down Nov. 21, Belz said the law “without question diminishes and impairs the benefits of membership in the state retirement systems” in violation of the Illinois Constitution.

Madigan’s office on Nov. 26 filed a direct appeal to the high court and on Dec. 4, asked the justices to expedite the matter in light of the May 2015 deadline to pass a state budget, saying the final ruling in this case will have a significant impact on Illinois’ financial condition.

The plaintiffs on Tuesday objected, asserting that the state rested “on a false sense of urgency” in seeking an accelerated docket and that bypassing the normal appeals process would impose an unfair briefing schedule on them.

The court granted the state’s request to fast-track the schedule without explanation. It adopted one of the three briefing schedules Madigan’s office suggested in its motion, the one that provided the latest deadlines.

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