HARRISBURG - The 2019 ballot question amending the Pennsylvania constitution to overhaul criminal justice proceedings, known as Marsy’s Law, is unconstitutional and cannot be certified, a Commonwealth Court ruled today.
In a 3-2 decision accompanied by multiple opinions, Judge Ellen Ceisler noted that the proposed amendment would implement “sweeping and complex changes” to the state constitution and, thus, is in violation of the constitutional requirement that voters must have the opportunity to consider changes to different sections of the constitution as separate questions. “(A)n exhaustive search of Pennsylvania case law reveals no other amendment to a section of the Constitution that was as sweeping in scope as the Proposed Amendment,” Ceisler wrote in her opinion, joined by Judge Michael H. Wojcik.
The court’s ruling was in response to a challenge brought by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Ms. Lorraine Haw of Philadelphia, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the law firm Dechert LLP. Attorney Ron Greenblatt, represented by Michael Gehring of Steve Harvey Law LLC, also intervened to challenge the proposed amendment and testified about the impact the amendment would have on the rights of criminal defendants.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys responded to the ruling. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“Marsy’s Law is flawed policy that was passed in a flawed manner. If implemented, this amendment would tip the scales of the criminal legal system even further against people who are accused of crimes, who are facing the full weight of the state that is trying to deprive them of their liberty.
“In its haste to score cheap political points, the Legislature passed this proposal in clear violation of the procedures required by the constitution. We are grateful that the court recognized this.”
The following can be attributed to Steven Bizar of Dechert LLP:
“The court understood that the constitution matters, that proper legal processes matter. However one feels about the underlying proposal, our state lawmakers take an oath to the constitution and are obligated to follow its mandates.
“While the commonwealth still has legal options, our hope is that today’s ruling will bring everyone to their senses and will end this drama.”
More information about this case, including a copy of today’s opinions, is available at aclupa.org/ML-lawsuit.