HARRISBURG — Today, an attorney for the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Lorraine Haw argued before the Commonwealth Court that a ballot question on rights in criminal proceedings posed to voters last year is unconstitutional and that the court should declare it void.
In arguments presented by Steven Bizar of the law firm Dechert LLP and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the plaintiffs told the court that the ballot question must be struck down because the proposed amendment would add 15 new constitutional rights for victims of crime, affecting eight different sections of the constitution and rewriting the existing protections for defendants. The state constitution makes clear that any changes to the document that affect more than one section, or which constitute multiple subjects, must be considered as separate amendments.
In addition, the plaintiffs argued that the ballot question itself violated the constitution by not containing the full text of the amendment and failing to inform voters as to the scope of the changes contained in Marsy’s Law. While the language of the proposed amendment runs over 500 words, the ballot question itself only amounted to 73 words; many of the individual rights that would be provided in Marsy’s Law were not described in those 73 words.
The plaintiffs maintain that the proposed amendment violates both restrictions.
“Advocates for mass incarceration in Pennsylvania, like the big-moneyed interests behind this ballot question, would have the Pennsylvania legislature and courts ignore our own state constitution and willfully mislead voters,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “In the process to enact it, the legislature failed to follow the edicts of the constitution. We hope the Commonwealth Court agrees and permanently blocks its implementation.”
Although Marsy’s Law appeared on the ballot in the 2019 general election, a Commonwealth Court judge blocked the tabulation of the results and certification of the vote, and that ruling was upheld by the state Supreme Court.
“From the start, this case has not been about victims’ rights, but about protecting the rights of Pennsylvania voters to decide on changes to their constitution,” Bizar said. “When constitutional requirements are skirted, even for good reasons, every one of us suffers.
“I was honored to argue via videoconference before the Commonwealth Court today on behalf of the petitioners to strike down the Marsy’s Law amendment and trust that the court will give careful consideration to these important constitutional matters.”
The lawsuit was filed in October 2019 on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and an individual, Lorraine Haw of Philadelphia. The plaintiffs are represented by Mary Catherine Roper and Andrew Christy of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Steven Bizar, Tiffany E. Engsell, Craig J. Castiglia, and Will Kuzma of Dechert LLP. More information about the case is available at aclupa.org/ML-lawsuit.