Citing voter approval, Marsy’s Law supporters call on ACLU to drop challenge
Advocates are calling on the ACLU of Pennsylvania to drop its lawsuit against a proposed crime victims’ rights amendment to the state constitution after unofficial election results showed voters approved it 3-1 Tuesday.
The amendment, which passed the General Assembly twice in the last two years, was scheduled to become part of the constitution upon voter approval until the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania joined lawyers from the ACLU to challenge the measure in court earlier this month. They argued that the proposal, which outlined a laundry list of victims’ rights, failed to comply with a requirement that constitutional amendments be limited to a single issue.
Although the amendment remained on the ballot, the Commonwealth Court issued an injunction staying the vote, pending a final ruling on the challenge.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld that ruling Monday in a 4-3 split decision, rejecting an emergency petition from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro seeking to overturn the injunction. Shapiro argued that the amendment met constitutional muster and that the court order halting an official vote count and certification could hamper voter turnout.
Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler, who issued the original vote counting injunction, did not immediately respond to a call for comment on the referendum results reported on the Department of State website.
The site listed 1,706,558 yes votes and 603,779 no votes on the question that had been printed on the ballot prior to the court challenge.
Pennsylvania Department of State Press Secretary Wanda Murren stressed that the results reported on the state website are unofficial.
“We did not tabulate the vote. That is something the counties do. We compile and certify the results. We did not tabulate and we did not certify those results. They were fed to us directly from the counties. With the advice of our attorneys, we looked at the judge’s ruling and decided to go forward with the report,” Murren said.
Advocates called the unofficial vote count a resounding victory for the measure known as Marsy’s Law.
Jennifer Riley, state director for Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, the multimillion-dollar political action committee funded by California tech billionaire Henry J. Nicholas III, issued a statement Wednesday calling on opponents to drop the legal challenges.
“Democracy dies in darkness and the ACLU is doing its best to turn out the lights. The ACLU’s lawsuit should be dropped immediately. It is an absurd, desperate, anti-democratic effort to strip elected representatives of their authority and deny citizens their vote,” Riley said.
Nicholas, a philanthropist known for his work in youth sports and victim advocacy, launched a national victims’ rights campaign more than a decade ago in memory of his sister, Marsalee Nicholas.
Known as Marsy, she was murdered in California by an ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week later, Nicholas’ mother encountered her daughter’s killer, who was out on bail, in a grocery store.
Advocates say amendments that require victims to be notified of court proceedings and give them standing in court are merely an attempt to balance the scales of justice. Civil liberties advocates, however, caution that they may tread on the rights of the accused to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Campaign finance records show the foundation Nicholas established in memory of his sister spent more than $100 million to promote such efforts in states across the country.
Ten states have passed victims’ rights amendments since California voters approved a state measure in 2008.
Courts in Montana and Kentucky later overturned those amendments on challenges similar to the case pending in Pennsylvania.
Pre-election campaign finance records showed the Marsy’s Law for All Foundation committed $6.4 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the Pennsylvania effort.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .