Judicial Symposium on the Economics and Law of Public Pension Reform

Event Date: Sunday, September 14 to Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Location: The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel, San Francisco, California

Program Description: The Judicial Symposium on the Economics and Law of Public Pension Reform discussed the looming financial and structural crisis facing state pensions systems across the nation.  With several dozen states adopting modest to major reforms, the economic impact on plan beneficiaries will be substantial, and at least twenty-five jurisdictions are facing lawsuits due to the reforms adopted.

This symposium comprehensively outlined the underlying structure of pension systems, addressed the differences between public and private pensions, and detailed the unfunded liabilities and potential bankruptcy issues arising from this crisis.  It also discussed the legal challenges to reform efforts under state constitutions citing both the contacts clause and the takings clause.

The symposium was structured to allow ample time for participant dialogue with speakers and panelists.



Part 1: The Background of Pensions

The Financial Structure of Pensions

D. Bruce Johnsen, Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law
Director, Mason Judicial Education Program, Law & Economics Center

Reading Assignment: Richard A. Ippolito, “A Study of the Regulatory Effect of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act” Journal of Law and Economics, 31, no. 1 (April 1988): 85-125.


The Public Pension Crisis

Joshua D. Rauh, Professor of Finance, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University



Part 2: Bankruptcy: The Nuclear Option

Bankruptcy and The Public Pension Crisis

Keynote: David A. Skeel, S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Reading Assignment: David A. Skeel, “Can Pensions be Restructured in (Detroit’s) Municipal Bankruptcy?The Federalist Society, White Paper (October 2013).

David A. Skeel, “The Education of Detroit’s Pension and Bond Creditors,” Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative Issue Brief 2, no. 1 (January 2014).


Viewing of "Bankrupt"

Viewing of a documentary about the City of Detroit and discussion with the film's director

Ben C. Howe, Founder and Creative Director, Mister Smith Media



Part 3: Pension Reforms

Pension Reform Options

Eileen C. Norcross, Senior Research Fellow, Mercatus Center, George Mason University

Reading Assignment: Odd J. Stalebrink, "Public Pension Funds and Assumed Rates of Return: An Empirical Examination of Public Sector Defined Benefit Pension Plans," The American Review of Public Administration (2012): 1 – 20.

Eileen Norcross and Andrew Biggs, "The Crisis in Public Sector Pension Plans: A Blueprint for Reform in New Jersey," Working Paper No. 10-31 (Mercatus Center, George Mason University, June 2010).


Legal Questions Raised by Pension Reform

Amy B. Monahan, Julius E. David Professor of Law, University of Minnesota School of Law

Reading Assignment:Thomas J. Fitzpatrick and Amy B. Monahan, "Who’s Afraid of Good Governance? State Fiscal Crises, Public Pension Underfunding, and the Resistance to Governance Reform" Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper 12-23 (November 2012). 



Audience Q & A



Part 4: An Assessment of the Economic and Legal Arguments Regarding Penison Reform

Public Choice

Todd J. Zywicki, George Maosn University Foundation Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law


Pension Reforms in Practice

Theodore Orson, Co-Founder, Orson and Brusini Ltd. 

Paul R. Glassman, Shareholder, Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, PC

Henry C. Kevane, Managing Partner, Pachulski Stand Ziehl & Jones LLP

Moderator: Todd J. Zywicki


Economic and Legal Issues

Jack M. Beermann, Harry Elwood Warren Scholar & Professor of Law, Boston University School of Law

Michael J. Podgursky, Professor of Economics, University of Missouri

Anthomy M. Randazzo, Director of Economic Research, Reason Foundation

Alexander Volokh, Associate Professor of Law, Emory University School of Law

Moderator: Todd J. Zywicki

Reading Assignment: Robert M. Costrell and Michael Podgursky, "Peaks, Cliffs, & Valleys: The Peculiar Incentives of Teacher Pensions," Education Next 8, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 22 – 28.

Robert M. Costrell and Michael Podgursky, "Golden Handcuffs," Education Next 10, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 61 – 66.

Anthony Randazzo, "Pension Reform Case Study: Michigan," Reason Foundation, Policy Study 434 (March 2014).

Anthony Randazzo, "Pension Reform Case Study: Rhode Island," Reason Foundation, Policy Study 434 (January 2014).

Jack M. Beermann, “Resolving the Public Pension ‘Crisis’,” Forthcoming, Fordham Urban Law Journal (2014). 



Roundtable Discussion


For More Information, Contact: Kayla Lahti
Program Assistant, JEP