Just back from traveling for almost a month. By the time I arrived home I had at least three phone calls from friends and acquaintances from the PERS Wars who had attending today’s hearings. We all know enough about the litigation process not to read too much into anything the court says or does in these situations. However, that said, two things pop out from the reports. First, the court seemed much more engaged in the whole process this time than they did in the Strunk case. And second, the crowds were duly noted. Only about 9 non-litigants, lawyers got the primary viewing in the actual Supreme Court gallery. Experienced court watchers knew to get there early and to claim a place in line. Overflow seating was provided on the second floor library, downstairs from the actual courtroom itself. Media was out in full force, which shows just how important this outcome actually is. That sword cuts two ways, as we know from past experience. Our least favorite newspaper (is that what it still is???) won two Pulitzers from its reporting (muckraking?) on PERS issues and bullied the court into some decisions that we’ve all been living with for some time. Thus, the overwhelming show of force by the media can be a negative factor for us as they have the bully pulpit to cajole the court into decisions that might go another way if based solely on legal principles (oh, did you think they decided only on legal issues?). Fortunately, the Statesman Journal, which has Hannah Hoffman, whose reporting on PERS matters for the SJ has been a model of probity and fairness. I’m told - I haven’t listened to the podcast yet - that she quickly and capably summarized today’s hearings on OPB’s Think Out Loud. While I regard no reporter as an ally in these proceedings, I am convinced that Hannah’s reporting is the most balanced, the least one-sided of any of the reporting on PERS in the past dozen years. Anyway, the court, as usual, has many issues to consider. I based my odds yesterday on the purely legal arguments in the case. It is impossible to handicap how public sentiment or economic necessity may play a role in the court’s decisions. To think that the Court has lived in a cave for the past 15 years is nonsense. All justices are elected and they are also PERS members, although in a slightly differently structured benefit array. They can’t turn off their own reactions to public sentiment any more than any of us can. They know full well that “…the whole world is watching”, or something close. Their decision will be closely watched, carefully timed, and choreographed for maximum impact. Whether retirees actually win on any of the issues remains, at best, a 50:50 bet all around. In other words, you place your bets carefully expecting to gain back only what you bet.
In any case, I want to personally thank everyone who attended the hearings today - a good turnout avoids the look of apathy, which has been the enemy of PERS members for decades - and especially the people who called me with more information.