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Legal Analysis: League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Kathy Boockvar

Overview of the Case

    • Case Citation: 247 A.3d 1183 (Table), No. 578 M.D. 2019, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • Date Filed: January 7, 2021
    • Key Parties: League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Lorraine Haw (Petitioners) v. Kathy Boockvar, Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth (Respondent)
    • Key Issue: Constitutionality of the proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution (Marsy’s Law) regarding crime victims’ rights.
    • Highlights: The court granted in part and denied in part the Petitioners’ application for summary relief, declaring the proposed amendment unconstitutional and the votes cast on it invalid

Background and Context of the Case

    • Marsy’s Law aimed to create new constitutional rights for crime victims, known as the Victims’ Rights Amendment.
    • The amendment was challenged on the grounds that it violated the single-subject rule and impacted existing constitutional rights.
    • The amendment was passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and submitted to voters in the November 2019 general election.
    • The League of Women Voters filed a Petition for Review seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

Legal Issues at Stake

    • Whether the proposed amendment violated Article XI, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution by encompassing multiple subjects, thus preventing voters from considering each change separately.
    • Whether the ballot question on the proposed amendment provided sufficient information to the electorate.
    • The potential impact of the amendment on existing constitutional rights of the accused and other constitutional provisions.

Legal Strategy of Both Sides

    • Petitioners: Argued that the amendment addressed multiple separate issues, not sufficiently interrelated, and would substantively affect other constitutional rights, thereby requiring separate votes for each change.
    • Respondent: Defended the constitutionality of the amendment and its presentation as a single ballot question, arguing that the rights were sufficiently interrelated to be considered as one amendment.

Result and Why Did the Court Make That Decision

    • The court declared the amendment unconstitutional because it violated the single-subject requirement of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which mandates separate votes for separate amendments.
    • The court found that the amendment would substantively affect multiple constitutional rights and was not merely touching other parts of the Constitution implicitly, but rather it had a patent effect on other constitutional provisions.
    • The court noted that the amendment would implement sweeping and complex changes, which were too extensive to be made by the process described in Article XI, Section 1.
    • The court granted the request for a permanent injunction, preventing the Secretary from tabulating and certifying any votes on the amendment.

Implications

    • The decision emphasizes the importance of adhering to constitutional procedures for amending state constitutions.
    • It highlights the court’s role in ensuring that voters can exercise their rights to vote on constitutional changes knowledgeably and separately.
    • The case underscores the balance between providing rights to crime victims and preserving the constitutional rights of the accused.

 

Further sources:

https://www.inquirer.com/news/pennsylvania/marsys-law-pennsylvania-victim-rights-wolf-appeal-20210209.html

https://www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2021/01/07/marsys-law-pennsylvania-court-unconstitutional-ruling-amendment-votes-invalid-commonwealth/stories/202101070127

https://whyy.org/articles/pa-voters-approve-marsys-law-by-wide-margin-but-legal-challenge-could-block-it/