HARRISBURG — Proponents of a proposal to add a Victim’s Bill of Rights to the state Constitution said the overwhelming support voters gave the measure in Tuesday’s election suggests a legal challenge should be brought to an end.
Marsy’s Law passed Tuesday, with 74 percent of voters approving the measure. Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania members are calling on the ACLU to drop what advocates consider a desperate, "anti-democratic" lawsuit against the effort.
With 99 percent of the votes counted, 1.7 million Pennsylvanians voted in favor of the constitutional amendment and 604,335 voted against it, according to the state’s election returns website.
“Democracy dies in darkness and the ACLU is doing its best to turn out the lights,” said Jennifer Riley, state director for Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania. “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.”
Not so fast say representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters, the groups challenging the state’s Marsy’s Law.
“You can’t invalidate the Constitution by popular vote,” said Steven Bizar, an attorney representing the League of Women Voters.
The Victim’s Bill of Rights proposed in Marsy’s Law would mandate that victims receive notice about court hearings and the release or escape of the accused, protection from the accused, prompt conclusion to the prosecution of the case and the right to confer with prosecutors, according to a summary of the law prepared by legislative staff.
While the public voted in favor of Marsy’s Law, the constitutional amendment is on hold while the courts consider the legal challenge filed by the two groups. A divided state Supreme Court decided on Monday to allow an injunction barring the state from certifying the results of Tuesday’s elections until after the lawsuit is resolved.
"The lawsuit goes on. If the ballot question was unconstitutional, it's illegal and cannot be certified,” Andy Hoover, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania ACLU, said Wednesday. “The results don't change that.”
While the Supreme Court considered the question of whether the lawsuit should bar the state from immediately certifying the vote, with the election over, the case returns to Commonwealth Court, Bizar said.
Hoover said the groups will now seek a permanent injunction to prevent the amendment from being added to the Constitution. The next court hearings in the lawsuit have not yet been scheduled. Hoover said the challenge could take months to resolve.
Bizar said the League of Women Voters and the ACLU hope the courts move quickly on the challenge.
The League of Women Voters and ACLU have challenged the ballot question on the grounds that the Victim’s Bill of Rights changes the Constitution in a variety of ways, so voters shouldn’t have been forced to vote “yes” or “no” on a single question, Bizar.
Proponents of Marsy’s Law have argued the single question was appropriate because all of the changes are geared toward improving victims’ rights.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.