The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday granted a motion for a direct appeal in the battle over a new law requiring state retirees to start paying premiums for their health insurance.

In its order, the Supreme Court ordered appeals in all four of the lawsuits over the law to be consolidated.

Sangamon County Associate Judge Steve Nardulli last month dismissed the consolidated lawsuit over the law, rejecting the plaintiffs’ claim that health insurance benefits are  protected by the state Constitution’s Pension Protection Clause.

On behalf of one of the four sets of plaintiffs in the suit, Springfield attorneys Don Craven and John Myers appealed Nardulli’s ruling to the Fourth District Appellate Court and asked the state high court to hear the appeal directly, Craven said.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, which represents the defendants in the consolidated suit, agreed with the plaintiffs in its response to the request that the case “presents one of the relatively rare situations which a direct appeal under Rule 302(b) is justified.”

“This appeal involves issues of significant and pressing financial significance to the state, and it would serve the public interest to have those issues definitely resolved directly by this Court, rather than being potentially subject to multiple levels of review and the additional delay and uncertainty attendant to such review,” the state asserts in its response to the plaintiffs’ request to the Supreme Court.

The court in September consolidated the four suits, which were brought this past summer in Madison, Sangamon and Randolph counties, in Sangamon County, where Nardulli was assigned to hear the matter.

Gordon Maag, a former Fifth District Appellate Court justice, brought the first suit over the new law in June in Sangamon County. His son, Wood River attorney Tom Maag, represents him.

The law, which took effect July 1, requires retired state employees, as well as former judges, lawmakers and university workers, to pay premiums for their health insurance, something the state previously paid for after four to 20 years of service depending on position.

The plaintiffs focused their arguments on the Pension Protection Clause, which refers to membership in the state’s pension and retirement systems as an “enforceable, contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

The state, however, asserted that the plaintiffs misinterpreted the clause by trying to fit health insurance benefits into the same category as pension benefits, the latter of which are protected by the Constitution.

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