Proposed Amendment Contained within One Ballot Question
League of Women Voters v. Boockvar (Degraffenreid), 2021 WL 62268 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2021), direct appeal, appeal docket 4 MAP 2021
This case arises from a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, known as the Victims’ Rights Amendment or Marcy’s Law, which would create a number of new constitutional rights for victims and others directly impacted by crimes. Voters filed suit seeking declaratory relief, as well as an injunction to prevent presentation of a ballot question to the electorate during the November 2019 General Election, which asked the electorate to decide whether a new amendment, Section 9.1, should be added to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution, PA. CONST. art. I.
In its Petition before Commonwealth Court, Voters averred, inter alia, that the Proposed Amendment would effect multiple significant and separate changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution by mandating a wide range of new, separate, and independent rights to victims and others directly impacted by a crime. Voters asserted that the Proposed Amendment would impermissibly extend new powers to the General Assembly, infringe the authority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Governor, and amend multiple existing constitutional articles and sections pertaining to multiple subjects. For these reasons, Voters argue that the Proposed Amendment violates Article XI, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution by impermissibly encompassing multiple subjects and thus preventing the electorate from voting “yes” to the Proposed Amendment provisions they approve and “no” to the Proposed Amendment provisions they oppose.
In a 3-2 decision, the Commonwealth Court enjoined the secretary of state from certifying the amendment, concluding that the Amendment violates the Article XI, Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution by implementing “sweeping and complex changes” to the state constitution by “facially and substantially amend[ing] multiple existing constitutional articles and sections pertaining to multiple subject matters that are not sufficiently interrelated to be voted upon as a single constitutional amendment.” Slip op. at 16 (emphasis in original). The Commonwealth appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that “the Proposed Amendment is sufficiently interrelated so as to justify inclusion in a single question, and that no other provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution would be patently or facially affected by adoption of the Proposed Amendment.” Appellants’ Br. at 9.
The Supreme Court granted oral argument, limited to the following issue:
Whether the Commonwealth Court erred as a matter of law in declaring that the Proposed Amendment to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as set forth in Joint Resolution No. 2019-1, violated Article XI, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, because the Proposed Amendment was contained in only one ballot question?