The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit opposing a proposed constitutional amendment addressing victim’s rights less than one month before Pennsylvanians vote.
The amendment, dubbed Marsy’s Law, would give victims the right to attend hearings, including bail or bond hearings and ask courts for a new hearing if they did not get to speak at prior court proceedings.
The 15 tenets outlined in the proposed amendment amount to “logrolling,” and legislators should have presented each one separately, officials with the ACLU said in a statement.
The lawsuit refers to Article 11, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states that “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” Marsy’s Law gives voters an “all-or-nothing” choice, according to the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
“The General Assembly cannot change the process by which amendments to Pennsylvania’s Constitution are adopted,” Jill Greene, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, said. “That right is reserved for voters, and, thus, the right of the voters to consider each amendment separately must also be respected. By bundling many amendments into one proposal, the legislature has ignored the right of the people to carefully consider each proposal on its own merits.”
The legislation that created the amendment passed through the state Legislature in two consecutive sessions without any changes to the language, one of the most difficult hurdles to amending the state’s constitution. Because of the difficult process required to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution, lawmakers often opt for simple legislative solutions despite the risk that typical law changes can be overturned by the efforts of their successors.
Marsy’s Law, however, is the name of a national effort to get as many state constitutions as possible amended to enshrine the rights of crime victims.
“The proposed constitutional amendment, known nationally as ‘Marsy’s Law,’ is the only way to ensure that victims enjoy equal footing with offenders, and the only way to ensure that victims have some kind of redress when their rights are violated,” state Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Camp Hill, wrote in her sponsorship memo. “A crime victims’ bill of rights will require that the Commonwealth protect the rights of victims no less vigorously than the rights of the accused.”
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, called the amendment “flawed.”
“The court should force the legislature to go back to the drawing board so that voters can consider these proposals one at a time, as required by the Constitution,” Shuford said.
The lawsuit also challenges the wording of the ballot measure, noting the amendment has 73 words while Marsy’s Law is 500 words.
The ACLU challenge comes after debates by the House and Senate, Jennifer Storm, Pennsylvania Victim Advocate told WTIF.
“It’s disenfranchising voters, quite frankly,” Storm said. “There are people who have already voted on this, ballots are out, people have already submitted their absentee ballots.”
Marsy’s Law is named for Marsy Nicholas, a California woman who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Nicholas’ brother advocated for the law after he and his mother encountered Marsy’s killer in the grocery store, not knowing he had been released on bail. The law was first passed in California in 2008 and other states have approved similar laws.
House Bill 276, Delozier’s legislation this session to create Marsy’s Law, passed the Pennsylvania Senate in April on a unanimous 50-0 vote. The vote in the House of Representatives, also in April, was 190-8 in favor.
In the prior 2017-18 session, the vote was 48-0 in the Senate and 197-0 in the House.
The ACLU’s motion includes a request for an expedited opinion. Barring a court ruling, the issue remains on the Nov. 5 ballot.