On November 5, Pennsylvanians will consider a constitutional amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, on their ballots. However, voters shouldn’t expect to find out the amendment’s fate on election night. Judge Ellen Ceisler of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court enjoined Acting Secretary of State Boockvar (D) from counting and certifying votes on the constitutional amendment, pending a final ruling. According to Judge Ceisler, the action appears to be the first time that a state court has delayed certification of a constitutional amendment.
Marsy’s Law would add a section addressing crime victims’ rights to the Pennsylvania Constitution Declaration of Rights. Judge Ceisler said she issued the preliminary injunction because approval of the constitutional amendment would have “immediate, profound, and in some instances, irreversible, consequences on the constitutional rights of the accused and in the criminal justice system.” While Judge Ceisler enjoined certification of the amendment due to the possible consequences of the law, the case itself addresses a different question—Does the ballot measure for Marsy’s Law violate the state constitution’s requirement that separate amendments receive separate votes?
The League of Women Voters (LWV) and Lorraine Haw challenged Marsy’s Law as violating the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. Article XI of the Pennsylvania Constitution says, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” LWV and Haw argued that the ballot measure proposes several amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution and, therefore, violates Article XI. Judge Ceisler said, ” Petitioners [LWV and Haw] have raised substantial questions as to the constitutionality of the Proposed Amendment in terms of both a violation of Article XI, Section 1’s separate vote requirement, and its facial impact on other articles and sections of the Constitution.”
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which opposes Marsy’s Law, responded, “This ruling reaffirms the importance of following the constitution. Despite the heated rhetoric, rather than help crime victims, the Legislature failed them in this process. They did not hold a single hearing over two legislative sessions, and they ignored the law in proposing this massive constitutional amendment. They knew better, and they should have done better.” Jennifer Riley, state director for Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, also responded, “We are dismayed by the decision of the Commonwealth Court to grant the injunction request. We maintain our position that the proposed amendment for Marsy’s Law satisfies the single-subject rule, and remain confident that the court will ultimately rule in favor of certifying the election results.”
The outcome of Pennsylvania Marsy’s Law could be unknown until the question is appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which the plaintiffs or defendants will have the option to do after the state Commonwealth Court issues a ruling. In 2018, certification of the Kentucky Marsy’s Law Amendment was blocked, pending a court ruling, but votes were counted. The amendment was approved, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the votes could not be certified. In Pennsylvania, votes will not be counted or certified unless a court rules that the amendment is constitutional.