Tagconstitutional amendment

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

Judge gavel on desk

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.

Additional reading:



Voters approved 62 constitutional amendments in 29 states in 2020

Every state but Delaware requires voters to ratify proposed changes to a state’s constitution.

There are four ways that proposed constitutional amendments can be proposed and put on the ballot:

  • Through legislatively referred constitutional amendments.
  • Through citizen-initiated constitutional amendments put on the ballot through signature petition drives. Eighteen states allow this method of amendment.
  • Through referral by constitutional conventions. In some states, automatic ballot referrals allow voters to decide at regular intervals whether or not to hold a convention.
  • In Florida, there is a commission-referred amendment process through the Constitution Revision Commission that meets every 20 years. It last met in 2018.

From 2006 through 2020 a total of 1,016 constitutional amendments were proposed and put before voters. This data only includes constitutional amendments put on the ballot for a statewide vote. It does not include certain state constitutional amendments that only apply to local jurisdictions and were voted on only by residents of particular local jurisdictions. It also does not include constitutional amendments in Delaware that weren’t subject to voter ratification. Of this total, voters approved 733 proposed changes to state constitutions.

In 2020, voters in 29 states decided a total of 84 constitutional amendments. Of the 84 proposed amendments, state legislatures referred 69 to the ballot, and signature petition drives were used to initiate the other 15. Of the 84 amendments, 62 (73.8%) were approved.

Since 2006, the even-numbered year with the most proposed amendments on the ballot was 2006 with 148, and the year with the least amount of proposals was 2020, which had 84 proposals. The average in even-numbered years since 2006 was 109.

Among states with a process for initiated constitutional amendments, Florida and Colorado featured the most proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot from 2006 through 2020, with a total of 56 and 52, respectively. Of that total, Florida voters approved 37, and Colorado voters approved 21. Among all 50 states, Louisiana featured the most proposed constitutional amendments and the most approved amendments.

States featured an average of 20 constitutional amendments on the ballot from 2006 through 2020. Across all states, an average of 15 amendments were approved. Statistically, from 2006 through 2020, off-year election cycles featured a higher approval rate for proposed constitutional amendments than even years. In 2007, 28 of the 31 proposed amendments were approved, for a rate of 90%. In 2013, amendments passed at a rate of 89%. In 2017, all 17 amendments on the ballot were approved, for the highest approval rate since 1947. In contrast, 2006 and 2020 had the highest approval rates of even-numbered years since 2006 at 74.5%and 73.8%, respectively.



More than $80 million raised by campaigns surrounding Illinois graduated tax amendment

There is one state constitutional amendment on the ballot in Illinois for November 3, 2020. The constitutional amendment would repeal the requirement that the state’s personal income tax is a flat rate across income. Instead, the amendment would allow for legislation to enact a graduated income tax. Contributions to the campaigns surrounding the amendment have topped $80 million.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) advocated for a graduated income tax structure for Illinois during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. One of his former staffers, Quentin Fulks, is chairing the campaign Vote Yes for Fairness to support the amendment. Through September 18, the campaign Vote Yes For Fairness, along with allied committees, had received $58.97 million. Gov. Pritzker provided the campaign with $56.5 million, or 96 percent of supporters’ total funds. Other top donors include the AARP ($664,680), Omidyar Network ($500,000), National Education Association ($350,000), and American Federation of Teachers ($250,000).

Opponents of the constitutional amendment have organized four PACs, and two of them have received funds through September 18—the Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike and the Say No to More Taxes. Between the PACs, opponents had received $21.65 million. Kenneth Griffin, CEO of the investment firm Citadel, contributed $20.00 million to the Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike. The Illinois Opportunity Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, donated $550,000. Other top donors—who each gave $100,000—include Richard Uihlein, the Samuel Zell Revocable Trust, and MacNeil Automotive Products.

While the constitutional amendment itself would not adopt a graduated income tax, the Illinois State Legislature passed legislation to go into effect if voters approve the amendment. The legislation would change the state’s income tax from a flat rate to six graduated rates beginning on January 1, 2021. Currently, income is taxed at a flat rate of 4.95% in Illinois. Under the bill, the proposed tax rates would range from 4.75% to 7.99%.

At the election on November 3, the constitutional amendment needs to receive either (a) 60 percent of votes cast on the ballot measure itself or (b) a simple majority of all of those voting in the election. Since 1996, voters have approved 83 percent of the constitutional amendments put on the ballot by the legislature. The last amendment that was rejected would have required a three-fifths approval by the General Assembly, city councils, and school districts to increase the pension benefits of their employees.

The Illinois constitutional amendment is one of three income tax-related ballot measures in 2020. In Arizona, Proposition 208 would enact a 3.50% income tax, in addition to the existing income tax (4.50% in 2020), on income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). Proposition 208 would distribute the revenue from the 3.50% income tax to teacher and classroom support staff salaries, retention programs, and career and technical education programs. In Colorado, Proposition 116 would decrease the state’s flat income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.55%.

Additional reading:
Illinois 2020 ballot measures
Ballot measure campaign finance, 2020



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