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Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court rules that 2019 Marsy’s Law ballot measure violated state constitution

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On January 7, 2021, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a ballot measure for Marsy’s Law, a type of crime victims’ rights amendment, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. Pennsylvanians voted 74% to 26% in favor of Marsy’s Law at the election on November 5, 2019. Results were never certified, however, according to a court order.

The 3-2 appellate court decision stated that the proposal violated the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. According to the Pennsylvania Constitution, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” Judge Ellen Ceisler (D) wrote the majority’s opinion, which ruled that Marsy’s Law would impact separate rights and provisions of the state constitution.

Judge Patricia McCullough (R), who agreed with the majority’s decision but wrote a separate opinion, stated that the measure contained “laudable and salutary provisions” but “simply embraces too many disparate matters to effectively convey its import to voters within the 75 words mandated by statute.”

Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt (R) dissented, stating that Marsy’s Law created constitutional rights for crime victims without changing existing provisions of the state constitution. Judge Leavitt wrote, “The judgment the court enters today deprives the people of this power on the strength of no more than speculation.”

Jennifer Riley, director of the organization Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, responded to the Commonwealth Court’s decision, saying, “We are prepared to continue advocating for victims and to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court to ensure that the votes of Pennsylvanians are counted and that the voices of the victims are protected.”

In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments need to be passed by the state Legislature during two successive legislative sessions. In 2018, both chambers unanimously passed the amendment. In 2019, the state Senate unanimously passed the amendment, and 190 of 202 state representatives voted for it. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) supported the ballot measure, as did the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and U.S. Reps. Fred Keller (R) and Scott Perry (R).

Opponents included the ACLU of Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania raised $6.65 million from the Marsy’s Law for All Foundation to campaign for the measure.

Marsy’s Law ballot measures faced similar lawsuits in state courts in Kentucky and Montana. The amendment was struck down in Montana for violating the state’s separate-vote requirement on constitutional amendments. In Kentucky, after it was struck down for reasons related to ballot language, the state Legislature placed it on the ballot again in 2020. The 2020 version, which was approved, included the full text of the measure on the ballot.

As of January 2021, 12 states had Marsy’s Law amendments. Voters in two additional states—Pennsylvania and Montana—voted in favor of Marsy’s Law amendments, but they were overturned or blocked. Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., started campaigning for Marsy’s Law to increase the rights and privileges of victims in state constitutions. Marsy’s Law is named after Nicholas’ sister, Marsy Nicholas, who was murdered in 1983.

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Illinois Gov. Pritzker and Citadel CEO Griffin are funding the campaigns surrounding the state’s graduated income tax ballot measure

Over $107 million has been raised for and against a constitutional amendment that would allow for a graduated income tax in Illinois. On November 3, voters will decide the constitutional amendment, which wouldn’t require a graduated income tax itself. Rather, the amendment would repeal the state constitution’s requirement that the state personal income tax is a flat rate. In 2019, the Illinois State Legislature passed a bill that would enact a graduated income tax with six brackets should voters approve the amendment.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker advocated for a graduated income tax on the campaign trail in 2018. Through October 2, Pritzker provided $56.50 million, or 96 percent, of the support campaign’s $59.00 million. “People like me should pay more and people like you should pay less,” said Pritzker.

Opponents of the constitutional amendment have organized several PACs, which together raised $58.69 million through October 2. Kenneth Griffin, CEO of the investment firm Citadel, contributed $46.75, or 96 percent, of the opposition campaign’s total funds. Griffin said a graduated income tax would mean “the continued exodus of families and businesses, loss of jobs and inevitably higher taxes on everyone.”

Pritzker and Griffin have each provided 96 percent of their respective side’s total campaign funds. On the support side, other top donors include the AARP ($674,445), the Omidyar Network ($500,000), and the National Education Association ($350,000). On the opposition side, other top donors include the Illinois Opportunity Project ($550,000), Duchossois Group Executive Chair Craig Duchossois ($200,000), and Petco Petroleum CEO Jay Bergman ($200,000).

Of the 128 statewide ballot measures in 2020, the Illinois constitutional amendment has the second-largest sum of contributions to its support and opposition campaign. In September, The Chicago Tribute reported that the Illinois constitutional amendment “is expected to be the most expensive ballot proposition debate in Illinois history.”

The most expensive in the country for 2020 is California Proposition 22, which would define app-based drivers as independent contractors. The combined support and opposition campaign contributions exceeded $200 million on October 2. Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Doordash, and Postmates provided $186.19 million to the campaign supporting Proposition 22. Opposing PACs received $13.91 million through October 2, with top funders including labor unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, SEIU-UHW West, and Service Employees International Union.


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