Dechert and ACLU Secure Win on Behalf of League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania in Marsy’s Law Decision

January 07, 2021

Dechert LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania represented the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Ms. Lorraine Haw in their successful challenge to a 2019 ballot question known as the Crime Victims Rights Amendment or Marsy’s Law, which sought to amend the Pennsylvania constitution to overhaul criminal justice proceedings. In its decision, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the ballot question is unconstitutional and all votes cast in favor of the amendment are invalid. The Court entered a permanent injunction directing the Commonwealth not to tabulate or certify any votes cast on the amendment in the November 2019 general election.

Marsy’s Law (Senate Bill 1011) proposed an amendment to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution to establish a crime victims’ ‘bill of rights,’ granting victims comparable rights to ‘justice and due process’ equal to those provided to the accused.

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 that it therefore violates Pennsylvania’s constitutional requirement that voters must have the opportunity to consider changes to different sections of the constitution as separate questions.

The Dechert team included Steven Bizar, Tiffany E. Engsell and Craig J. Castiglia.

“The court understood that the constitution matters, that proper legal processes matter,” said Bizar. “However one feels about the underlying proposal, our state lawmakers take an oath to the constitution and are obligated to follow its mandates.”

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