For two critical reasons, the Marsy’s Law ballot question, which may or may not appear on the November 5th general election ballot, should be rejected by voters. A legal challenge to the proposed question was filed yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, along with plaintiff Lorraine Haw. This lawsuit argues that Pennsylvania’s constitutional procedures were not followed in the crafting of this ballot question. On substantive grounds, these reforms are shortsighted and will leave those accused of crimes without the due process protections they are entitled to constitutionally.

The Process of Ballot Question Creation in Pennsylvania

In order to enact an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution through the General Assembly, legislation must be passed through both chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions. The PA Constitution requires that “[w]hen two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” This proposed constitutional amendment combines several changes into a single amendment and therefore denies voters their constitutional right to vote “yes” or “no” on each individual change to the constitutional. 

Lorraine Haw, one of the plaintiffs in this suit, knows these issues deeply through her own life experiences. She lost both her brother and her son to the issue of crime - her brother was murdered and is a crime victim and her son is serving a long prison sentence. Lorraine also has gone through the criminal justice system herself and is on the path to recovery from addiction. When Lorraine casts her vote, she won’t be able to vote for the provisions she supports and vote against those she doesn’t - instead, the General Assembly has set up a process in which her voice as a voter will not be properly heard. Constitutional amendments are a serious matter, and if voters do not agree with every single provision in this constitutional amendment, they should proceed to vote “NO”. Keystone Progress supports the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters, and most especially, the bravery of Lorraine Haw, plaintiffs in a lawsuit meant to stop this unacceptable initiative. We hope that this question won’t appear on the November ballot, and that the efforts of these plaintiffs will prevail.

Pennsylvania’s Mass Incarceration Crisis

If the ballot question prevails, we hope you will vote no on substantive grounds. The Marsy’s Law ballot question undermines fundamental rights of people accused of crimes that date to the founding of our country. Bail hearings could be delayed if the stated victim of the alleged crime is not notified, holding people in detention longer than is necessary. A victim’s right to a speedy conclusion to the proceedings could compromise a defendant’s ability to build an effective defense at trial and to appeal their conviction or sentence. We support the rights of crime victims to be treated with dignity and respect, but when that extends to a scenario where accusers can decline to be deposed, fulfill discovery requests, or otherwise cooperate with a criminal investigation, that directly violates the rights of the accused to a fair trial.

Whether it is their intention or not, advocates of Marsy’s Law are pushing a dangerous, pro-incarceration legislation rather than a victims’ rights bill.

Dan Doubet, executive director of Keystone Progress, says “Marsy’s Law makes it harder for the accused to defend themselves. At a time when the criminal justice system has been weaponized against black, brown, immigrant, and poor communities, we oppose any laws that make it harder for people to receive due process in court.”

If this question appears on your ballot on November 5th, be sure to vote NO.

Colleen Kennedy