In November, Pennsylvania will be the 13th state to vote on Marsy’s Law, an amendment to add crime victims’ rights to the state constitution. The ballot measure would create 15 constitutional rights for crime victims.
Lorraine Haw, along with the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania (LWV), filed litigation to invalidate the ballot measure on October 10, 2019. The lawsuit argues that the measure violates the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. Article XI of the Pennsylvania Constitution reads, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” The legal complaint said Haw, a registered voter of Pennsylvania, “cannot vote for the parts of the amendment she agrees with without voting for other things she disagrees with,” which violates her rights. Acting Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar (D) was named as the defendant.
Boockvar filed her response to the complaint on October 16, 2019. Boockvar said, “The Crime Victims’ Rights Amendment pertains to a single subject matter — securing victims’ rights in the criminal case in which they suffered direct harm. Every single subpart of the amendment advances this one goal.” The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has scheduled a hearing for October 23, 2019, but a ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Courts have struck down Marsy’s Law in Kentucky and Montana. In Kentucky, the state Supreme Court ruled on June 12, 2019, that the ballot language did not provide enough information to communicate the amendment’s substance to voters. On November 1, 2017, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the Marsy’s Law ballot measure violated the state’s separate-vote requirement.
The Pennsylvania State Legislature placed Marsy’s Law on the ballot after approving the proposal during two consecutive legislation sessions (2018 and 2019). The proposal received unanimous support in 2018. In 2019, the proposal received unanimous support in the state Senate, while seven Democrats and one Republican voted against the proposal in the 203-member state House. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced his support for Marsy’s Law in April 2018, saying, “Marsy’s Law will amend the state constitution to provide crime victims with equal protections and participation in the process. Victims and their families deserve equity.”
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is opposed to Marsy’s Law. Andy Hoover, communications director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said, “Contrast these [defendants’ rights] with victims’ rights, which arise out of a dispute between two private people. One person’s rights against another person are fundamentally different than a person’s rights against the awesome power of the government. This is why our Constitution, which lays out the restrictions on government power, includes defendants’ rights and why victims’ rights are primarily contained in statute.”
Through September 16, 2019, the campaign Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania has received $6 million from the national organization Marsy’s Law for All Foundation. Henry Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom Corp, founded Marsy’s Law for All Foundation. Marsy’s Law is named after Nicholas’ sister, who was murdered in 1983.