League of Women Voters of Pa. v. Degraffenreid

Citation265 A.3d 207
Decision Date21 December 2021
Docket NumberNo. 4 MAP 2021,4 MAP 2021
Parties LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF PENNSYLVANIA and Lorraine Haw v. Veronica DEGRAFFENREID as Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Appeal of: Shameekah Moore, Martin Vickless, Kristin June Irwin and Kelly Williams
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Gopalakrishnan Balachandran, Esq., Lisa Ann Mathewson, Esq., The Law Offices of Lisa A. Mathewson, LLC, for Amicus Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Rodney A. Corey, Esq., Harrisburg, PA, James Guthrie Mann, Esq., PA House of Representatives, Jill S. Vecchio, Esq., for Amicus Curiae Republican Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Suzanne V. Estrella, Esq., Pennslyvania Coalition Against Rape, Tallahassee, FL, for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape

Peter David Goldberger, Esq., Law Office of Peter Goldberger, for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania Assn of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Howard Greeley Hopkirk, Esq., Joshua D. Shapiro, Esq., Harrisburg, PA, for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General

Kenneth Lawson Joel, Esq., Harrisburg, PA, for Amicus Curiae Tom Wolf

Peter E. Kratsa, Esq., West Chester, PA, for Amici Curiae Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Pennsylvania Assn of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Pennsylvania Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Kevin Francis McCarthy, Esq., for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association

Melissa Bevan Melewsky, Esq., Harrisburg, PA, for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association

Angela Rowan Monaco, Esq., Eli Mordecai Segal, Esq., Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, for Amicus Curiae Juvenile Law Center

John Francis Stoviak, Esq., for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts

Abby Nicole Trovinger, Esq., Department of Corrections, for Amicus Curiae Office of Victim Advocate

William R. Christman III, Esq., West Chester, PA, Scot Russel Withers, Esq., Lamb McErlane P.C., David Pittinsky, Esq., Ballard Spahr LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellants Shameekah Moore, Martin Vickless, Kristin June Irwin and Kelly Williams

Steven Edward Bizar, Esq., Craig Joseph Castiglia, Esq., Michael Corcoran, Esq., Philadelphia, PA, Tiffany Ellen Engsell, Esq., Michael Hugh McGinley, Esq., Dechert LLP, Andrew Chapman Christy, Esq., American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and Lorraine Haw

Michael E. Gehring, Esq., Philadelphia, PA, Stephen G. Harvey, Esq., Steve Harvey Law LLC, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellee Greenblatt, Ronald L.

Kathleen Marie Kotula, Esq., Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, for Veronica Degraffenreid




In this direct appeal, we review the Commonwealth Court's entry of a permanent injunction blocking the Secretary of the Commonwealth from certifying the results of the November 5, 2019 election in which the voters of the Commonwealth were asked to approve a proposed "victim's rights amendment," described as "Marsy's Law," which would be added as a new provision of Article I of the Pennsylvania ConstitutionSection 9.1 ("Victim's Rights Amendment"). The Commonwealth Court entered its injunction on the basis that the Victim's Rights Amendment violated the requirement of Article XI, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution that, "[w]hen two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately." Pa. Const. art. XI, § 1. After careful review, we affirm the decision of the Commonwealth Court, because, for the reasons we detail herein, the Victim's Rights Amendment was, in actuality, a collection of amendments which added a multiplicity of new rights to our Constitution, and, because those new rights were not interrelated in purpose and function, the manner in which it was presented to the voters denied them their right to consider and vote on each change separately, as Article XI, § 1 mandates. We, therefore, affirm the decision of the Commonwealth Court.

I. Background

We emphasize at the outset that our decision does not address the wisdom of the multifarious provisions of the Victim's Rights Amendment, or the policy choices giving rise to them; rather, our obligation in this matter is solely to resolve the question of whether the amendment, as presented to the voters of this Commonwealth in the November 5, 2019 general election, complied with the inviolable "separate vote" requirement of Article XI, § 1 that "[w]hen two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately." Pa. Const. art. XI, § 1.

In June 2019, after having been previously approved in the 2018 legislative session, Senate Bill 1011 of 2018 was adopted by both houses of the General Assembly as Joint Resolution 1 of 2019 (hereinafter "Joint Resolution 2019-1."). It amends Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution by adding the following wholly new provision:

§ 9.1. Rights of victims of crime.
(a) To secure for victims justice and due process throughout the criminal and juvenile justice systems, a victim shall have the following rights, as further provided and as defined by the General Assembly, which shall be protected in a manner no less vigorous than the rights afforded to the accused: to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim's safety, dignity and privacy; to have the safety of the victim and the victim's family considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the accused; to reasonable and timely notice of and to be present at all public proceedings involving the criminal or delinquent conduct; to be notified of any pretrial disposition of the case; with the exception of grand jury proceedings, to be heard in any proceeding where a right of the victim is implicated, including, but not limited to, release, plea, sentencing, disposition, parole and pardon; to be notified of all parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to provide information to be considered before the parole of the offender, and to be notified of the parole of the offender; to reasonable protection from the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused; to reasonable notice of any release or escape of the accused; to refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery request made by the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused; full and timely restitution from the person or entity convicted for the unlawful conduct; full and timely restitution as determined by the court in a juvenile delinquency proceeding; to the prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence; to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related postconviction proceedings; to confer with the attorney for the government; and to be informed of all rights enumerated in this section.
(b) The victim or the attorney for the government upon request of the victim may assert in any trial or appellate court, or before any other authority, with jurisdiction over the case, and have enforced, the rights enumerated in this section and any other right afforded to the victim by law. This section does not grant the victim party status or create any cause of action for compensation or damages against the Commonwealth or any political subdivision, nor any officer, employee or agent of the Commonwealth or any political subdivision, or any officer or employee of the court.
(c) As used in this section and as further defined by the General Assembly, the term "victim" includes any person against whom the criminal offense or delinquent act is committed or who is directly harmed by the commission of the offense or act. The term "victim" does not include the accused or a person whom the court finds would not act in the best interests of a deceased, incompetent, minor or incapacitated victim.

Joint Resolution 2019-1.1

The then-Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kathy Boockvar,2 drafted the text of the question for this proposed amendment as it appeared on the ballot in the November 5, 2019 election ("Ballot Question"), and twice published it in newspapers in each county. The Ballot Question read in full:

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; right to refuse discovery requests made by the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them?

Ballot Question (Plaintiff's Exhibit 1 offered in Oct. 23, 2019 hearing in League of Women Voters v. Boockvar , 578 M.D. 2019 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2019)).

On October 10, 2019, Appellees3 (collectively referred to as "the League") filed a declaratory judgment action in the Commonwealth Court and sought to preliminarily enjoin the tabulation and certification of the votes on the Victim's Rights Amendment, alleging that it violated Article XI, § 1.4 The matter was assigned to Judge Ellen Ceisler, who conducted an evidentiary hearing and heard argument on the motion. On October 30, 2019, Judge Ceisler issued an order granting the requested preliminary injunction and enjoining the Secretary "from tabulating and certifying the votes in the November 2019 General Election relating to the ballot question asking voters whether the Pennsylvania Constitution should be amended to include a new section providing for victims’ rights until final disposition of the Petition for Review, including appeals." League of Women Voters v. Boockvar , 578 M.D. 2019 (Pa. Cmwlth. filed Oct. 30, 2019) (order).

Thereafter, Appellants5 filed an emergency motion with our Court seeking to overturn Judge Ceisler's order. After expedited review, we affirmed the preliminary injunction. League of...

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1 cases
  • Wolf v. Gen. Assembly of the Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 17, 2023
    ...Our Supreme Court affirmed, agreeing with this Court that the ballot question violated article XI, section 1. Id. at 1270. Similarly, in DeGraffenreid, also prior to the election, the Secretary published a ballot question regarding a proposed constitutional amendment. DeGraffenreid, 265 A.3......

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