Summary of Pennsylvania (PA) Constitutional Law
By: Bruce Ledewitz
Federal Courts and the Pennsylvania Constitution
No Pennsylvania statute establishes, and no Pennsylvania court has recognized, a private cause of action for damages under the Pennsylvania Constitution. See Jones v. City of Phila., 890 A.2d 1188, 1208 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2006) ("[N]either Pennsylvania statutory authority nor appellate case law has authorized the award of money damages for violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution."). The following recent court decisions illustrate how the federal courts view the actionability of violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Pocono Mountain Charter School v. Pocono Mountain School District, Slip Copy, 2011 WL 3737443 (Not selected for publication in the Federal Reporter) (3rd Cir.(Pa.), August 25, 2011)(NO. 10-4478): although claims for money damages for violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution are barred, equitable remedies (such as declaratory or injunctive relief) are available.
Doe ex rel. Doe v. North Allegheny School Dist., Slip Copy, 2011 WL 3667270 (W.D.Pa., August 22, 2011)(NO. 2:08CV1383): in a memorandum opinion recognizing that because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the requirements of Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution are not distinguishable from the Due Process claim of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, federal courts must apply the same analysis to both claims; because the plaintiff's substantive due process claim did not prevail under the state-created danger theory, plaintiff's claim under Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution must necessarily be dismissed.
Sims v. Piazza, Slip Copy, 2011 WL 3664797 (M.D.Pa., August 19, 2011)(NO. 3:09-CV-33): plaintiff's state law claims, including claims for monetary damages under the Pennsylvania Constitution were dismissed, and the Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim was remanded.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has often stated that Pennsylvania does not follow the federal rule of Article III case or controversy doctrine in defining standing. Observers may have assumed that Pennsylvania had its own constitutional rule of standing and justiciability.
In re Hickson, 821 A.2d 1238 (Pa. 2003): per Cappy, J., the Court held that the standing doctrine in Pennsylvania has no constitutional counterpart to the "case or controversy" requirement under Article III of the U.S. Constitution; standing is merely a "useful tool" in regulating litigation in Pennsylvania (Fn. 5). [Of course, standing requirements do exist and the appellant in Hickson was held to lack standing to seek judicial review. Nevertheless, the proclamation of a purely prudential basis for standing is an important step. And, since most federal justiciability doctrine is also grounded in Article III, there may be no constitutional basis for ripeness, mootness or political question doctrine either.]
Commonwealth v. Kilgore, 719 A.2d 754 (Pa. Super. 1998): counsel ineffective for failing to raise search issue under the State Constitution. [This case may signal a new attitude toward the failure to raise state constitutional issues when federal constitutional issues are raised.]
Kleese v. Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors, 738 A.2d 523 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999): reference by party to "freedom of commercial speech" sufficient, even in the absence of citation to either the federal or Pennsylvania constitutions, to raise constitutional issue.
In re T.J,, 739 A.2d 478 (Pa. 1999): per Cappy, J., the Court held that county mental health office has standing to contest decision not to extend mental patient's involuntary commitment despite mootness because the matter "raises an issue of an important public interest, and is an issue which is capable of repetition and yet apt to evade review"; administrative agency has standing to litigate matters that "touch  upon its concerns" (citing Pennsylvania Game Comm'n v. Commonwealth, Dept. of Environmental Resources, 555 A.2d 812, 815 (Pa. 1989)).
In the Interests of R.H., 791 A.2d 331 (Pa. 2002): plurality opinion holding that school police officers are subject to the requirements of Miranda warnings. Equally important, the plurality held that once a case is decided on federal constitutional grounds, state constitutional grounds need not be discussed.
Commonwealth v. Crawford, 798 A.2d 266 (Pa. Super. 2001): failure of media parties to appeal denial of intervention waives that issue; media parties otherwise lack standing to challenge "gag" order in juvenile death penalty case.
Commonwealth v. Hall, 830 A.2d 537 (Pa. 2003): per Castille, J., the Court upheld as constitutional a statutory permissive inference that use of an unlicensed firearm may be regarded as evidence that the defendant intended to commit the offense, here aggravated assault, against due process challenge under the federal standard of County Court of Ulster County v. Allen, 422 US 140 (1979). The Court acknowledged Pennsylvania precedent applying a test for such inferences as more restrictive than the current federal standard, but held that this caselaw applied federal analysis. The Court declined to treat the Pennsylvania Constitution as more restrictive since counsel did not argue text, history or policy to apply a more restrictive standard under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Pennsylvania due process analysis therefore was treated as coextensive with federal analysis.
Wert v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Driver Licensing, 821 A.2d 182 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): per Leavitt, J., the court held that Pennsylvania constitutional claims presented in conclusory fashion, in a footnote, cannot be addressed because such a presentation does not explain the basis for the legal claim as requested by Pa.R.A.P. 2119(a).
In the Matter of Condemnation by Urban Redevelopment Auth. of Pittsburgh, 823 A.2d 1086 (Pa. 2006): per Cappy, C.J., the Court upheld condemnation of adult movie theater against federal First Amendment and Article I, Section 7 claims. The Court did not reach the standing issue because, unlike treatment in federal courts, standing in courts of Pennsylvania is "nonjurisdictional and waivable." For substantive analysis, see infra, Article I, Section 7.
Stackhouse v. Commonwealth, 892 A.2d 54 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006): per Leadbetter, J., the panel distinguished between claims for damages and for affirmative injunctive relief, which were held barred by sovereign immunity, 1 Pa.C.S. section 2310, and claims seeking to restrain state officials from affirmative acts, which were not; the court did not appear to distinguish actions to enforce State constitutional rights at issue in this case from any other kind of claim.
Article I. Declaration of Rights
Section 1: Reputation
Carlacci v. Mazaleski, 798 A.2d 186 (Pa. 2002): per Zappala, C.J., the Court held that there is a right grounded in due process and Article I, Section 1 (Reputation) of the Pennsylvania Constitution to petition for expungement of a dismissed protection from abuse proceeding, even in the absence of statutory authority.
Section 1: Due Process
Pennsylvania landowners enjoy protections from zoning that are not recognized under federal due process, nor under the federal law of just compensation. For example, the landowner, under certain circumstances, has the right of the natural expansion of a non-conforming use.
Pa Northwestern Distributors, Inc. v. Zoning Hearing Board, 584 A.2d 1372 (Pa. 1991): the Court held that amortization of a non-conforming use is a per se taking of private property for which just compensation must be paid.
Nixon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare, 839 A.2d 277 (Pa. 2003): per Nigro, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that an amendment to the Older Adults Protective Service Act (disqualifying certain persons with criminal records from employment in facilities catering to older adults) violated the Pennsylvania Constitution's due process right to pursue a particular occupation.
Section 5: Voting Rights
Mixon v. Commonwealth, 759 A.2d 442 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000): the court upheld disenfranchisement of incarcerated felons, rejecting plaintiff's claim that "suffrage is an inviolate right" for felons under the Pennsylvania Constitution, but struck down provision of state law that deprived ex-felons who were incarcerated within the past five years of the right to register to vote under federal rational basis review.
Section 6: Right to Trial by Jury
Right to Jury Trial in Criminal Cases:
Commonwealth v. Tharp, 754 A.2d 1251 (Pa. 2000): per Nigro, J., the Court unanimously upheld 1998 constitutional amendment of Article I, Section 6, providing the Commonwealth in criminal case the same right to a jury trial as the defendant.
Right to Jury Trial in Civil Cases:
It is well settled that the standard for applying Article I, Section 6 is, in part, whether a jury trial would have been available under such a claim when the Pennsylvania Constitution was adopted. In Wertz v. Chapman Township (1999), infra, the majority acknowledged that this test is narrower than that applied under the 7th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Commonwealth v. One 1984 Z-28 Camaro Coupe, 610 A.2d 36 (Pa. 1992): per Flaherty, J., the Court held that an owner of property subject to forfeiture pursuant to the Controlled Substances Forfeitures Act is entitled to a jury trial, because "In rem forfeiture actions involving questions of whether the goods seized are contraband were heard in common law courts before juries in 1790."
Blum v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 626 A.2d 537 (Pa. 1993): after a full Edmunds analysis, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Article I, Section 6 of the Pennsylvania Constitution requires a full, twelve person jury in a civil case, if requested.
Wertz v. Chapman Township, 741 A.2d 1272 (Pa. 1999): in a matter of first impression, per Cappy, J., the Court held that the civil jury trial provision does not require a jury trial in a damage action for sexual discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Commonwealth v. Downey, 732 A.2d 593 (Pa. 1999): per Cappy,J., the Court held that denial of motion to poll jury made after verdict is recorded but before the jury disperses constitutes reversible error, even without a showing of prejudice by the defendant.
Fritz v Wight, 907 A.2d 1083 (Pa. 2006): per Baer, J., the Court held that civil jury verdict with special interrogatories will be sustained where different groups of 10 jurors comprise the majority for different questions as long as some groups of 10 jurors agree on each interrogatory and on the final verdict. (Saylor, J. dissented).
Section 7: Free Expression
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has suggested that under limited circumstances, Article I, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution may have some application to private conduct. In Western Pennsylvania Socialist Workers v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., 515 A.2d 1331 (Pa. 1986), the Court held that Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not grant individuals a right of access for the exercise of free expression on private property, when the owner prohibits all political activities from occurring on the premises.
Insurance Adjustment Bureau v. Insurance Commissioner, 542 A.2d 1317 (Pa. 1988): per Flaherty, J., the Court struck down a ban on insurance adjustment solicitation of the public within 24 hours of a fire or other catastrophe on primarily federal commercial speech grounds, but ultimately propounded a state constitutional test prohibiting speech restriction "where the legitimate, important interests of government may be accomplished practicably in another, less intrusive manner."
Pap's A.M. v. City of Erie, 812 A.2d 591 (Pa. 2002): per Castille, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a City ban on nude erotic dancing under Article I, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution on remand from The United States Supreme Court, which upheld the ban against a First Amendment challenge. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court continues to regard Pap's A.M. as not changing the basic State constitutional analysis pursuant to Article I, Section 7.
Piatek v. Pulaski Township, 828 A.2d 1164 (Pa. Super. 2003): the Court upheld restrictions on a sexually oriented business under authority of precedents pre-dating Pap's A.M., and made no mention to Pap's.
Uniontown Newspapers v. Roberts, 839 A.2d 185 (Pa. 2003): per Eakin, J., the Court held that because Article 1, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution "provides no more expansive rights of the press to access information than the First Amendment", neither the Pennsylvania Constitution nor the federal First Amendment grants the press a right of access to legislative phone records.
Norton v. Glenn, 860 A.2d 48 (Pa. 2004): after balancing the free expression guaranteed by Article I, Section 7 against the right to reputation protected by Article I, Section 1, the Court, per Chief Justice Cappy, held that there is no "neutral reportage" privilege under the Pennsylvania Constitution, nor is such privilege recognized under federal First Amendment law.
In the Matter of Condemnation by Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, 913 A.2d 178 (Pa. 2006): per Cappy, C.J., the Court upheld a taking in the context of the condemnation of an adult movie theater as part of a 3-block blighted area against a State constitutional free expression claim premised on Pap's A.M. v. City of Erie, 812 A.2d 591 (2002) because "unlike the Pap's matter, there is no silent, content-based reason that is 'inextricably linked' to the content-neutral reason of urban redevelopment."
DePaul v. Commonwealth et al., 969 A.2d 536 (Pa. 2009): per Castille, J., the Court held Section 1513 of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act (4 Pa.C.S. § 1513), which attempted to impose an absolute ban on political contributions on persons affiliated with licensed gaming in Pennsylvania, unconstitutional under Article I, Section 7, to the extent that it prohibited contributions of any amount. (McCaffery, J. dissented).
Section 8: Search and Seizure
Despite substantial similarity between the text of Article I, Section 8 and that of the fourth amendment, this is the parallel provision most consistently expanded beyond the protections of the federal Constitution. In a number of cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has gone beyond the requirements of the federal fourth amendment in interpreting Section 8. The following list provides a summary of some of the more noteworthy decisions rendered by Pennsylvania courts, in chronological order:
Commonwealth v. DeJohn, 403 A.2d 1283 (Pa. 1979): rejecting United States v. Miller (1976) (which held that the federal Constitution does not recognize an expectation of privacy in a person's bank records), the Court held that a depositor has standing to challenge the seizure of his or her bank records.
Commonwealth v. Sell, 470 A.2d 457 (Pa. 1983): rejecting United States v. Salvucci (1980), the Court granted "automatic standing" to challenge a search in a possession crime.
Commonwealth v. Melilli, 555 A.2d 1254 (Pa. 1989): rejecting Smith v. Maryland (1979), the Court held that placement of a pen register on an individual's phone constitutes a search requiring probable cause.
Commonwealth v. Edmunds, 586 A.2d 887 (Pa. 1991): rejecting United States v. Leon (1984), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that there is no "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule.
Commonwealth v. Brion, 652 A.2d 287 (Pa. 1994): without mentioning the contrary Fourth Amendment precedent, United States v. White (1971), the Court held that use of a wired informant in a defendant's home constitutes a search under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Commonwealth v. Matos, 672 A.2d 769 (Pa. 1996): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the United States Supreme Court decision in California v. Hodari D. (1991) (which held that police officer's pursuit of individual was not seizure) did not govern determination of whether police officers' pursuits of the defendants were seizures under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Commonwealth v. Carlton, 701 A.2d 143 (Pa. 1997): absent exigent circumstances, Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution requires "knock and announce" execution of warrant by police; the relation to Pa. R.Crim.P.2007 and the fourth amendment is unclear.
Commonwealth v. Cass, A.2d 350 (Pa. 1998): search of all student lockers at high school violates neither Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, nor the federal Fourth Amendment.
Commonwealth v. Alexander, 708 A.2d 1251 (Pa. 1998): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in limiting its holding in Commonwealth v. Brion (1994), held that no warrant is required for a one-party body-wire worn by a patient, with consent, in doctor's office.
Commonwealth v. Hawkins, 718 A.2d 265 (Pa. 1998): although Sell's "automatic standing" permits a defendant to adjudicate a suppression motion, a legitimate expectation of privacy is still required under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Commonwealth v. Cleckley, 738 A.2d 427 (Pa. 1999): because the Pennsylvania Constitution does not require "knowing and intelligent", as opposed to "voluntary", consent to an otherwise unconstitional search, the Commonwealth need not show that the subject knew there was a right to refuse consent to the search.
Commonwealth v. Cook, 735 A.2d 673 (Pa. 1999): per Cappy, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court applied the federal Terry stop and frisk to uphold the admission of abandoned property into evidence, since reasonable suspicion had justified the original police approach.
In Re F.B., 726 A.2d 361 (Pa. 1999): the Court upheld a general search of high school students as pre-condition to entry to the school and set forth the framework for evaluating such searches under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Commonwealth v. Glass, 754 A.2d 655 (Pa. 2000): in a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, per Castille, J., held that anticipatory search warrants do not per se violate Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Commonwealth v. Zhahir, 751 A.2d 1153 (Pa. 2000): per Saylor, J., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court expressly adopted the federal "plain feel" doctrine as a permissible ground for seizure of contraband under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; the majority also rejected a categorical approach to frisks in drug cases, instead requiring an independent justification for each frisk.
Commonwealth v. Shaw, 770 A.2d 295 (Pa. 2001): per Zappala, J., the Court held that a warrant is required for seizure of hospital-administered blood-alcohol content test results under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, but not required under the federal Fourth Amendment.
Commonwealth v. Rekasie, 778 A.2d 624 (Pa. 2001): in a 4-3 decision, the Court held that a defendant does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a telephone conversation from his home with a confidential police informant and, therefore, the Commonwealth was not required to obtain a determination of probable cause before tape recording the conversation. The decision does not appear to change the underlying analysis of Article I, Section 8 cases, nor portend a closer following of federal precedent in search cases.
Commonwealth v. Yastrop, 768 A.2d 313 (Pa. 2001): a bare majority upheld DUI roadblocks with objective standards, substantially following Michigan Dep't. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), but applying State law to the standards. There are many examples of adoption of federal standards: Commonwealth v. Gray (1985) (adoption of federal "totality of the circumstances" probable cause test for search warrants issued on the basis of information from confidential informants); Commonwealth v. Crouse, 729 A.2d 588 (Pa.Super. 1999) (after conducting a four-factor Edmunds analysis, the court followed Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990) as the proper standard under the State Constitution and permitted a "protective sweep" of a private home pursuant to a valid arrest warrant).
In the Interest of D.M., 781 A.2d 1161 (Pa. 2001): by adopting Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119 (2000) as the proper standard for evaluation of investigative stops under Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Court, per Justice Cappy, held that in the the future, unprovoked flight at the approach of the police may be considered as a factor in deciding whether reasonable suspicion existed, thus justifying an investigative stop.
Commonwealth v. Proetto, 771 A.2d 823 (Pa. Super. 2001): under both the Pennsylvania and federal Constitutions, there is no expectation of privacy in an e-mail received by someone else, nor is there an expectation of privacy in chat room conversations.
Commonwealth v. Edwards, 26 PLW 1037 (Court of Common Pleas, Clinton County, 9/3/2003): two cases in the Court of Common Pleas in Clinton County held that under Article I, Section 8, Pennsylvania does not follow the federal open fields doctrine; under the rulings, State game officials would need a warrant or exigent circumstances to enter an open field on private property marked with a no trespassing sign.
Theodore v. The Delaware Valley School District, 836 A.2d 76 (Pa. 2003): per Castille, J., the Court held that policy authorizing random, suspicionless drug and alcohol testing of students seeking parking permits or participating in voluntary extracurricular activities would be constitutional under Article I, Section 8, only if district made some actual showing of specific need for policy and an explanation of basis for believing that policy would address that need.
Commonwealth v. Duncan, 817 A.2d 455 (Pa. 2003): refusing to apply Commonwealth v. DeJohn, 403 A.2d 1283 (Pa. 1979), the Court, per Castille, J., held that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in name and address that would prevent police from obtaining that information from banking records associated with an ATM card.
Commonwealth v. Rogers, 849 A.2d 1185 (Pa. 2004): an opinion by Chief Justice Cappy seems to permit canine drug sniffs of the exterior of an automobile based on reasonable suspicion and of the interior of a car based on probable cause.
Jones v. City of Philadelphia, 890 A.2d 1188 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006): per Cohn Jubelirer, the court, using the 4-part Edmunds test, held that where the government uses excessive force to effect a seizure, the Pennsylvania Constitution provides no greater protection than does the federal Fourth Amendment. In light of the adequate remedy under section 1983, the court declined to recognize a cause of action for money damages for violation of Article I, Section 8. On October 25, 2006, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied without opinion a petition for allowance of appeal of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court decision. PA Supreme Court Docket Number 95 EAL 2006.
Commonwealth v. Russo, 934 A.2d 1199 (Pa. 2007): the Court, per Castille, J., with Cappy, C.J., Baer and Baldwin, JJ., dissenting, held that the federal open fields doctrine, which generally does not recognize a legitimate expectation of privacy in privately owned property outside the curtilage of habitation under the federal fourth amendment, applies equally to searches and seizures under the Pennsylvania Constitution; the opinions discussed at some length the appropriate use and structure of state constitutional interpretation.
Commonwealth v. Hernandez, 935 A.2d 1275 (Pa. 2007): the Court, per Fitzgerald, J., reaffirmed a dual requirement of probable cause plus exigency beyond mere mobility to justify an automobile search under the Pennsylvania Constitution. (The Court nevertheless admitted the evidence in question on the ground that other information supported the search affidavit in question). Justice Castille concurred in the result on the ground that there is no established, unique automobile search approach under the Pennsylvania Constitution; Justice Castille also urged reconsideration of the Court's approach to canine sniffs under Article I, Section 8. Justice Saylor, joined by Justice Eakin, concurred on the ground that Pennsylvania should adopt a modified federal automobile exception.
Section 11: Open Courts and Remedies
Section 11 and several other provisions limit the power of the General Assembly to restrict recovery for injuries. The law in this area is complex. It is clear that whole causes of action can be abolished, especially when an administrative mechanism for recovery is supplied. On the other hand, it would probably be unconstitutional for the General Assembly to enact dollar amount limits for classes of damages.
Masloff v. P.A.T., 613 A.2d 1186 (Pa. 1992): per Zappala, J., the Court held that if a legal injury is recognized and a remedy provided, special standing restrictions on the remedy's use violate the public's right of redress under Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Section 13: Cruel Punishments and Forfeiture
Commonwealth v. Zettlemoyer, 454 A.2d 937 (Pa. 1982): the Court held that Article I, Section 13 is "coextensive" with the "cruel and unusual punishments" provision of the federal Eighth Amendment.
Commonwealth v. Means, 773 A.2d 143 (Pa. 2001): after a full Edmunds analysis, the Court, per Cappy, J., held that the introduction of victim impact testimony does not result in cruel punishment.
Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 833 A.2d 1220 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2003): the court held that the forfeiture of defendant's vehicle was not grossly disproportional to defendant's guilty pleas to four felony counts of possession with intent to deliver a Schedule I substance, and thus the forfeiture did not violate the constitutional prohibition against excessive fines.
Commonwealth v. Real Property Known as 5444 Spruce St., 832 A.2d 396 (Pa. 2003): in a unanimous opinion, the Court overruled the Commonwealth Court order, infra, and held that the only standard to apply to challenges to punitive forfeitures under Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution is the the federal test of gross disproportionality of the punishment to the gravity of the defendant's offense.
Commonwealth v. Real Property and Improvements, 787 A.2d 1117 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001): the Commonwealth Court concluded that the federal Eighth Amendment and Article I, Section 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution require separate and different analyses for testing the constitutionality of forfeitures. Under the Eighth Amendment, the test is "gross disproportionality" and under Section 13, the Commonwealth must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the property forfeited was used as part of a pattern of criminal activity and not a onetime occurrence. Since State constitutional provisions may not weaken federal standards, a defendant of necessity will be permitted to make claims of unconstitutional forfeitures under both constitutions. The defendant did so in Real Property and failed under both arguments.
Section 14: Habeas Corpus
Commonwealth v. Chester, 733 A.2d 1242 (Pa. 1999): in the course of affirming the denial of PCRA in a death penalty case, the Court, per Cappy, J., applied PCRA to claims of penalty phase error on the ground, in part, that the prohibition against suspension of the writ of habeas corpus would prevent the legislature from foreclosing any claims that would have been cognizable upon traditional habeas corpus review.
Section 17: Irrevocable Special Privileges and Impairment of Contracts
Although never expressly articulated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the standard to apply in challenges to retroactive legislation under Article I, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution is the federal standard of ex post facto law under Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution. Cimaszewski v. Board of Probation and Parole, 868 A.2d 416 (Pa. 2005), infra, lessens, if it does not eliminate, the conflict between the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on this issue. Under Cimaszewski, in order to constitute retroactive legislation, particular facts must be presented to show that the amendment is likely to enhance a specific prisoner's punishment.
Hoffman v. Township of Whitehall, 677 A.2d 1200 (Pa. 1996): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that adding a ten point credit to veterans' scores in seeking promotions in public employment violates Article I, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Parsonese v. Midland National Ins. Co., 706 A.2d 814 (Pa. 1998): retroactive application of statute making benefit designation of spouse ineffective after divorce would be a violation of both Article I, Section 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution.
Commonwealth v. Ardestani, 736 A.2d 552 (Pa. 1999): after a full discussion of retroactivity principles under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Court held Commonwealth v. Brion, 652 A.2d 287 (Pa. 1994) to apply retroactively to cases pending on direct appeal at the time of the decision.
Cimaszewski v. Board of Probation and Parole, 868 A.2d 416 (Pa. 2005): per Baer, J., the Court overruled Finnegan v. Pa. Bd. of Probation and Parole, 838 A.2d 684 (Pa. 2003) and held that that the 1996 amendment to the Parole Act may be shown to violate the ex post facto clause, if retroactive application of change created a significant risk of prolonging the prisoner's incarceration.
Section 21: Right to Bear Arms
Tsokas v. Board of Lic. and Inspect. Rev., 777 A.2d 1197 (Pa. 2001): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the revocation of appellant's gun permit under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995 as a person "likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety" and noting in passing that the right to bear arms in Article I, Section 21 "may be restricted in the exercise of the police power... ."
Section 27: Environmental Protection
Section 27 provides a right, in very broad terms, to environmental quality and specifies the Commonwealth as "trustee of these resources." Despite its broad language, Section 27 has not had important effects in litigation. The Governor may not sue a private party for an alleged violation of Section 27 without implementing legislation. Private parties can sue the government for alleged violations of Section 27 without implementing legislation, but Section 27 is satisfied if all statutory protections for the environment have been followed, a reasonable effort has been made to reduce environmental harm to a minimum and the environmental harm does not clearly outweigh the benefits of the action.
White v. Township of Upper St. Clair, 799 A.2d 188 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): per Leavitt, J., the Court held that Article I, Section 27 provides taxpayers and residents standing to enforce terms of dedication of a public park.
Pilchesky v. Rendell, 932 A.2d 287 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007): in the context of dismissing claims against Commonwealth-related parties, thus ending the court's jurisdiction, the court, per Colins, J., held that that land dedicated to use as a public park is not a "natural resource" and therefore its transfer for development does not violate the Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Section 28: The Equal Rights Amendment
Although there is no equal protection provision in the Pennsylvania Constitution, the courts have interpreted several provisions to provide its equivalent. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that interpretation of equal protection is guided by the same principles that are applied in interpretation of the federal equal protection clause. It is not clear however, that outcomes under the State Constitution are always equivalent to federal law.
Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. v. Insurance Commissioner, 482 A.2d 542 (Pa. 1984): the approval of an automobile insurance rate by the Insurance Commissioner is sufficient to implicate Section 28 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Defazio v. Civil Services Commission of Allegheny County, 756 A.2d 1103 (Pa. 2000): the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania struck down a statute that provided for the Sheriff of Allegheny County to be the only county official in this Commonwealth without some discretion in hiring, firing or promoting his employees, under the equal protection clause contained in Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, on the ground that there was no rational basis for the sub-classification of the Allegheny County Sheriff.
Weaver v. Harpster, 885 A.2d 1073 (Pa. Super. 2005): per Montemuro, J., the panel recognized sexual harassment common law cause of action for at will employee who was not covered by Pennsylvania Human Relations Act because employer had less than 4 employees; the court found public policy exception to at-will doctrine based in part on Article I, Section 28 (equal rights amendment) and Article I, Section 11 (open courts and remedies) provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Article II. The Legislature
The General Assembly is treated by the Pennsylvania courts as a body of general legislative powers except where there are express or implied constitutional limits. This stands in contrast to the approach of the courts with regard to congressional power. There are numerous important ways in which legislative powers under the Pennsylvania Constitution differ from those of Congress; for example, the General Assembly must follow specified and detailed legislative procedures in order for a bill to become law.
Section 2: Elections of Members; Vacancies
Perzel v. Cortes, 870 A.2d 759 (Pa. 2005): the Court held that the Secretary of Commonwealth, as an officer of the executive branch, lacks authority to question validity of a writ of election issued by legislative branch officials pursuant to Article II, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Section 7: Ineligibility of Office
Bolus v. Fisher, 785 A.2d 174 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001): relying upon Commonwealth ex rel. Baldwin v. Richard, 751 A.2d 657 (Pa. 2000), the panel holds that all felonies are "infamous crimes" under Article II, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Article III. Legislation
Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted a two-prong test for determining whether legislation violated Article III, Section 1: first, the Court must consider the legislation's original purpose and compare it to the final purpose to determine whether there has been a change in the original purpose; second, the Court must consider whether the title and contents of the legislation are deceptive in their final form. Pennsylvanians Against Gambling Expansion Fund v. Commonwealth, 877 A.2d 383 (Pa. 2005).
Section 1: Passage of Laws
Pennsylvanians Against Gambling Expansion Fund v. Commonwealth, 877 A.2d 383 (Pa. 2005): per Chief Justice Cappy, a unanimous Court upheld most of the provisions of the Pennsylvania Gaming Act providing for legalized gambling in Pennsylvania against a variety of constitutional challenges to the process by which the bill became law, including single subject and changes in original purpose challenges. The most important provision invalidated concerned the delegation of authority to the Gaming Control Board to consider local zoning laws but not to be bound by them; the Court held that this provision constituted an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority because the permitted consideration was standardless.
Marcavage v. Rendell, 936 A.2d 188 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007): the panel, per Colins, J., struck down an amendment to the Ethnic Intimidation Statute, 18 Pa.C.S. §2710, on the ground that the Act amending the section changed its original purpose during the course of legislation, in violation of Article III, Section 1. On July 23, 2008, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, per curiam order, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court in Marcavage and adopted the opinion by Judge Colins in that case as the opinion of the Supreme Court.
Section 3: Single Subject Rule
Although there is a strong presumption in the law that legislative enactments do not violate the Constitution, legislation must still comport with the requirements set forth in Article III of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The purpose of the single subject rule is to curb legislative "logrolling", or attempts to hide unpopular legislation by attaching it to a popular bill that is likely to pass.
City of Philadelphia v. Commonwealth, 838 A.2d 566 (Pa. 2003): per Saylor, J., the Court held that legislation that pertained to a variety of unrelated subjects, involving local government, was enacted in violation of the single subject rule of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
DeWeese v. Cortes, 906 A.2d 1193 (Pa. 2006): in a unanimous per curiam order, without opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the order of Commonwealth Court, which had held that the bill that codified the DNA Act and amended the Judicial Code section relating to comparative negligence violated the single subject rule of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Spahn v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 977 A.2d 1132 (Pa. 2009): the Court, per Castille, J., upheld the State legislature's amendment of the First Class City Home Rule Act (limiting standing in zoning appeals to remove taxpayer standing that had been granted by Philadelphia's Zoning Ordinance); the Court held that access to the courts is not a an issue of purely local concern, but a matter of statewide concern, and that the amendment did not violate the single subject rule.
Commonwealth v. Neiman, 5 A.3d 353 (Pa.Super. 2010): the court, per Ford Elliott, P.J., held that a bill containing Megan’s Law and Deficiency Judgment Act amendments violated the single subject rule of Article III, Section 3, but that the proper relief is to preserve Megan’s Law by striking provisions of bill not germane to regulation of sexual predators.
**On August 10, 2011, in granting a petition for allowance of appeal, the court rephrased the issue for clarity: whether, if Act 152 violates the single subject rule of Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Meghan's Law can be sustained by severance of the remaining portions of Act 152 of 2004. Com. v. Neiman, 2011 WL 3484442 (Pa. 2011).
Section 11: Appropriations Bills
The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of America v. Department of Public Welfare, 888 A.2d 601 (Pa. 2005): per Baer, J., the Court held that under the test enunciated in Biles v. DPW, 403 A.2d 1341 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1979), which the Court formally adopted, an appropriation bill contained invalid substantive language in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Section 14: Public Education
Marrero v. Commonwealth, 739 A.2d 110 (Pa. 1999): per Chief Justice Flaherty, with three Justices concurring in the result, the Court affirmed the dismissal by the Commonwealth Court of a challenge brought under Article III, Section 14, to the Pennsylvania public education funding system. The Court agrees that such a challenge raises a nonjusticiable political question. [The same day, the Court, in a per curiam order, affirmed the Commonwealth Court's dismissal of another school funding case.]
Hazelton Area School District v. Zoning Hearing Board, 778 A.2d 1205 (Pa. 2001): the Court held that under Article III, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which provides that "the General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public schools", school district power cannot be exercised at the expense of the health, safety and general welfare of the community; the school district's statutory authority to rent its recreational fields for baseball games and practices has to be exercised consistently with local zoning regulations.
Section 26: Compensation
Denbow v. Borough of Leetsdale, 729 A.2d 1113 (Pa. 1999): in a matter of first impression, the Court held that Article III, Section 26 (prohibiting "extra compensation" to public employees) applies to municipalities, rather than just to the General Assembly, and prevents the Borough from granting the pay increases at issue in the case.
Section 32: Special Legislation
Harrisburg School District v. Zogby, 828 A.2d 1079 (Pa. 2003): per Saylor, J., the Court reversed an earlier Commonwealth Court decision, and held that a Pennsylvania statute allowing mayors of medium-sized cities to assume control of failing school districts violated neither Article III, Section 32 (prohibiting special legislation) nor Article IX, Section 3 (right of voters to adopt municipal form of government).
Pennsylvania Turnpike Com. v. Commonwealth, 899 A.2d 1085 (Pa. 2006): per Castille, J., the Court held that Act that mandated the Turnpike Commission to engage in collective bargaining with first-level supervisors, but did not require any other agency to do so with regard to its first-level supervisors, is a special law in violation of Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Article IV. The Executive
The Pennsylvania Constitution provides for a Governor to exercise executive power. There are numerous important ways in which Executive powers under the Pennsylvania Constitution differ from the Presidential powers provided by the United States Constitution. For example, under State law, the Governor has a line-item veto, but the President is expressly prohibited from exercising a line-item veto.
Section 6: Disqualifications for Office
Lawless v. Jubelirer, 811 A.2d 974 (Pa. 2002): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court per curiam, without opinion and without oral argument, affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court allowing Robert Jubelirer to serve simultaneously as Lieutenant Governor, State Senator and President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate. (Zappala and Nigro, J.J. dissented from both the decision and from the failure to grant oral argument).
Section 16: Partial Disapproval of Appropriation Bills
Jubelirer v Rendell, 904 A.2d 1030 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2006): per Colins, .J., an unanimous court held that the Governor may use line item veto to remove substantive riders from appropriation bills as opposed to restricting the veto power to amounts of appropriations: "if the General Assembly can put it in, the Governor can take it out."
Article V. The Judiciary
Section 1: Unified Judicial System
In re Randy Buchanan, 880 A.2d 568 (Pa. 2005): per Justice Castille, a unanimous Court held that courts have an inherent power to seal autopsy reports, which are otherwise required to be disclosed to the public under the Pennsylvania Coroner's Act, when the Commonwealth demonstrates "that release of the report would substantially hinder an ongoing criminal investigation."
Section 10: Rule-Making Power
In addition to judicial power similar to that exercised by the federal courts, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is granted a procedural rulemaking power in Article V, Section 10. All laws inconsistent with judicially prescribed rules are to be suspended. The Court has also asserted the exclusive power to supervise the bar and the employees and officials of the Judicial Branch.
Kremer v State Ethics Commission, 469 A.2d 593 (Pa. 1983): per Zappala, J., the Court held financial disclosure provisions of the Ethics Act, insofar as they are applied to judges, unconstitutional as an infringement on the Supreme Court's power to supervise courts under Article III, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Court of Common Pleas v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 682 A.2d 1246 (Pa. 1996): in a matter of first impression, the Court, per Nigro, J., held that PHRC may not adjudicate race discrimination claim by terminated court employee, under the separation of powers doctrine.
Commonwealth v. Stern, 701 A.2d 568 (Pa. 1997): per Zappala, J., the Court held that criminal statute prohibiting payment for referrals violated separation of powers, as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has exclusive authority to supervise conduct of attorneys.
Commonwealth ex rel. Unified Judicial System v. Vartan, 733 A.2d 1258 (Pa. 1999): "deliberative process privilege" held to bar subpoena of former Chief Justice in civil suit for breach of contract arising out of construction and lease of courthouse.
L.J.S. v. State Ethics Commission, 744 A.2d 798 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000): per McGinley, J., the court en banc held that State Ethics Commission lacks authority to investigate a chief adult probation officer of the Court of Common Pleas because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has exclusive authority to supervise the Judicial Branch under Article V, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Gmerek& Artz v. State Ethics Com., 807 A.2d 812 (Pa. 2002): an equally divided Court held unconstitutional, the Lobbying Disclosure Act, as violation of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's authority to regulate professional conduct of attorneys. (Castille, J., and Zappala, J., joined by Cappy, J., for affirmance; Saylor J., joined by Nigro, J., and Newman, J., for reversal).
Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Jepson, 787 A.2d 420 (Pa. 2002): the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the authority to disbar a district justice for misconduct in the practice of law pursuant to Article V, Section 10(c) of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which grants the Supreme Court the exclusive power to supervise the conduct of attorneys; the Court further held that the fact the Court of Judicial Discipline is also authorized to discipline judicial officers pursuant to Article V, Section 18 of the Pennsylvania Constitution in no way abrogates the constitutionally conferred powers of the Supreme Court in disciplinary cases.
Shaulis v. Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, 833 A.2d 123 (Pa. 2003): a closely divided court held the State Ethics Act unconstitutional to the extent that it bars government employees who are also attorneys from representing clients before the employee's former employer for a period of one year after the employee leaves that employment. (Justice Lamb represented the deciding fourth vote for the majority).
Abdulhay v. Bethlehem Medical Arts, L.P., 425 F.Supp.2d 646 (E.D. Pa. 2005): per Gardner, J. the court held that a Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure can be procedural for purposes of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's constitutional authority to issue only procedural rules, but substantive for purposes of applying the rule in federal court pursuant to Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938); the contrary argument "confuses two very different issues."
Payne v. Commonwealth Department of Corrections, 871 A.2d 795 (Pa. 2005): in prison condition litigation the Court, per Chief Justice Cappy, held that provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) providing requirements for dismissal of prison conditions litigation and PLRA provision providing for dismissal based on abusive litigation did not unconstitutionally interfere with Supreme Court's rulemaking authority; the court held that PLRA provision providing for automatic dissolution of preliminary injunction and PLRA provision requiring prisoner to pay costs when granted in forma pauperis status were unconstitutional as inconsistent with Supreme Court's rulemaking authority; the court also held that criminal provisions of obscenity law and department regulations banning obscene material were not unconstitutional.
Commonwealth v. Whitmore, 912 A.2d 827 (Pa. 2006): per Newman, J., the Court held that the Superior Court exceeded its authority by ordering recusal of the trial judge when no party had filed a motion to recuse; such an action interferes with the administrative and supervisory functions of the Supreme Court.
Beyers v. Richmond, 937 A.2d 1082 (Pa. 2007): in a plurality opinion joined by Castille and Baldwin, JJ., Justice Fitzgerald held that the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law does not apply to an attorney's conduct in distributing settlement proceeds because to apply consumer protection statutes to attorney misconduct would "encroach upon this Court's exclusive power to regulate the practice of law" granted by the Pennsylvania Constitution. (Chief Justice Cappy, joined by Baer, J., concur solely on statutory grounds; Justices Saylor and Eakin dissented).
Section 13(b): Vacancies to be Filled
Brady v. Cortes, 873 A.2d 795 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): the court held that pursuant to Article V, Section 13(b) of the Pennsylvania Constitutuion, vacancy in the Court of Common Pleas is to be filled by election rather than appointment where primary and election for other open seats on the court are already scheduled to be heard; the court noted that "the 'ten month' provision of Article V, Section 13(b) is not absolute. . . ."
Section 16(a): Compensation
Stilp v. Commonwealth, 905 A.2d 918 (Pa. 2006): Castille, J., for five Justices, upheld the July 7, 2005 pay raise and partially upheld the November 16, 2005 repeal of the pay raise, except for the repeal of the judicial increase, which was held to violate Article V, Section 16(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Section 17: Prohibited Activities
In re Cicchetti, 743 A.2d 431 (Pa. 2000): the Court held that in the future, court-appointed employees may not participate in judicial retention elections campaigns.
Article VI. Public Officers
Section 7: Removal of Civil Officers
South Newton Township Electors v. South Newton Township Supervisors, 838 A.2d 643 (Pa. 2003): the Court held unconstitutional Section 503 of the Second Class Township Code, 53 P.S., Section 65503 (which provided for the "recall of a township supervisor"), as violation of Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution (providing for the "exclusive method of removal of elected officials").
Burger v. School Board of the McGuffey School Dist., 923 A.2d 1155 (Pa. 2007): per Justice Castille, the Court held that Article VI, Section 7 (providing for removal of civil officers) does not confer absolute authority of removal upon appointing bodies and, therefore, state statute governing, and limiting, removal of superintendents of schools is not unconstitutional.
Article VIII. Taxation and Finance
Section 1: Uniformity of Taxation
City of Allentown v. MSG Associates, 747 A.2d 1275 (Pa. Cmwlth 2000): upholds different tax rate on services than sales against uniformity challenge under Article VIII, section 1. The Court expressly overrules Commonwealth v. Mercadante, 676 A.2d 1307 (Pa. Cmwlth 1996). The requirement that all taxes upon the same class of subjects shall be uniform is arguably the most important provision in the Pennsylvania Constitution. One of its consequences is that a progressive State income tax is unconstitutional. Another consequence of the requirement of uniformity is that there must be constitutional authority for the government to grant any tax breaks. Thus, the numerous exemptions and deductions with which the student is familiar from federal taxation are at least suspect, if not unconstitutional, under the Pennsylvania Constitution. One particular source of recent litigation has been the scope of the Constitution's permission to grant tax exemption to "[i]nstitutions of purely public charity."
Downingtown Area School District v. Chister County Board of Assessment Appeals, 913 A.2d 194 (Pa. 2006): per Saylor, J., striking down statutory preclusion of tax uniformity challenge if common level ratio is within 15% of estimated predetermined ratio and permitting taxpayer to introduce evidence of assessment-to-value ratio of similar properties. (Chief Justice Cappy, joined by Justice Eakin, dissented).
Sectionn §2(v): Institutions of Public Charity Exempt from Taxation
Hospital Utilization Project v. Commonwealth, 487 A.2d 1306 (Pa. 1985): the Court held that in order to qualify as an "institution of public charity" under Article VIII, an institution must:
1) advance a charitable purpose;
2) donate or render gratuitously a substantial portion of its services;
3) benefit a substantial and indefinite class of persons who are legitimate subjects of charity;
4) relieve the government of some of its burden; and
5) operate entirely free from private profit motive.
It is still not clear whether most hospitals and universities qualify for tax exemption under this standard. See St. Margaret Seneca Place v. Board of Property Assessment (Pa. 1994).
Wilson Area School District v. Easton Hospital, 747 A.2d 877 (Pa. 2000): the Court upheld the tax exempt status of the hospital as "entirely free from a private profit motive" because all distributions of surplus revenue were made either with expectation of repayment or in order to increase the efficiency of hospital operations.
In Re Appeal of Order of St. Paul the First Hermit, 873 A.2d 31, (Pa.Cmwlth. 2005): the Commonwealth Court in holding that only portions of the Visitor's Center and Retreat House associated with the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa were entitled to tax exemption as "[a]ctual places of regularly stated religious worship" the panel reiterated the holding of St. Aloysius R.C. Church v. Fayette County Board of Assessment Appeals, 849 A.2d 293 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004) that places of religious worship may not seek tax exemption under more expansively applied "purely public charity" exemption unless facilities operate independently.
Alliance Home of Carlisle, PA v Board of Assessment Appeals, 919 A.2d 206 (Pa. 2007): per Castille, J., the Court reversed the denial of tax exempt status to a parcel of land containing an independent living facility owned by a licensed continuing care retirement community. As the courts below had held that the parcel must independently satisfy the constitutional and statutory standards for a purely public charity, the Court holds instead that the proper test of tax exemption for a parcel of land owned by an institution of purely public charity and closely connected to its charitable purpose, is whether the parcel is actually and regularly used for the purposes of the institution (or the statutory test that is the equivalent) and not whether the parcel would independently satisfy constitutional and statutory standards for tax exemption.
Section 2(a)(i): Exemptions of Places of Worship
Wesley United Methodist Church v. Dauphin County Board of Assessment, 889 A.2d 1180 (Pa. 2005): per Eakin, J., the Court held that a church parking lot may be granted tax exempt status as an "[a]ctual place of regularly stated religious worship..." if " reasonably necessary to the existence of the church..."; over Chief Justice Cappy's dissent, the majority rejected the categorical exclusion of church parking lots from tax exemption manifested in Second Church of Christ of Philadelphia v. City of Philadelphia, 157 A.2d 54 (Pa. 1959).
Section 10: Audit
Stilp v. Commonwealth, 898 A.2d 36 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006): per Pellegrini, J., the court held that the Auditor General lacks authority to audit the spending accounts of the General Assembly for reasons of the separation-of-powers doctrine and that the current legislative auditing system satisfies the requirements of Article VIII, Section 10. [It should be mentioned that in footnote 9 of the opinion, Judge Pellegrini cites this website for the content of the Debates of the 1968 Constitutional Convention and notes that other constitutional source material can be found on this website as well.]
Article IX. Local Government
Section 1: Local Government
Ortiz v. Commonwealth, 681 A.2d 152 (Pa. 1996): per Flaherty, J., the Court held that attempts to regulate assault weapons in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were preempted by State law.
Nutter v. Dougherty, 938 A.2d 401 (Pa. 2007): in a thorough discussion of Pennsylvania preemption jurisprudence, the Court, per Baer, J., upheld Philadelphia campaign contribution limits for local races despite State legislation in the area. (Cappy, C.J., joined by Fitzgerald, J., dissented).
Section 2: Home Rule
Devlin v. City of Philadelphia, 862 A.2d 1234 (Pa. 2004): per Nigro, J., the Court held that Philadelphia's designation of Life Partnership as a marital status is not preempted by the State Marriage Law nor otherwise beyond the City's authority under its home rule charter; city could lawfully extend employee benefits to employees' same-sex life partners; but city could not prohibit discrimination based on life partner status where person who neither lives nor works in the city are eligible to register as life partners; and city's realty transfer tax exemption for life partners violated the Uniformity Clause of Article VIII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Hartman v. City of Allentown, 880 A.2d 737 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005): per Jubelirer, J., the unanimous panel held that amendment to city's human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity was valid in that the ordinance was within the city's police powers, did not violate the home rule statute and was not preempted by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Section 12: Philadelphia Debt
Consumers Education and Protective Association, International, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, 808 A.2d 266 (Pa Cmwlth. 2001): because financial obligations are limited to currently available revenues, Philadelphia ordinances authorizing City to finance new professional baseball and football stadiums do not represent "debt" and thus do not violate debt limit contained in Article IX, Section 12 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Article XI. Constitutional Amendments
Another way in which the Pennsylvania Constitution differs from the federal Constitution is the relative ease of amending the State Constitution; however, Article XI provides detailed procedures for proposing constitutional amendments. Most importantly, Article XI requires "When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately." For the legislative history of the 1968 Amendments, including relevant case decisions interpreting the constitutionality of Amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution, see the 1968 Amendments.
Article I, § 6: Right to Trial by Jury
Commonwealth v. Tharp, 754 A.2d 1251 (Pa. 2000): per Nigro, J., the Court unanimously upheld the 1998 constitutional amendment of Article I, Section 6, providing the Commonwealth in criminal case the same right to a jury trial as the defendant.
Article I, § 9: Confrontation, Self-incrimination and Due Process
Bergdoll v. Kane, 731 A.2d 1261 (Pa. 1999): in affirming the opinion of the Commonwealth Court at 694 A.2d 1155 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1997), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a constitutional amendment to Article 1, Section 9 (which was approved by the voters on November 7, 1995), on the ground that the amendment, in effect, constituted two amendments that should have been voted on separately. The Supreme Court subsequently reversed, by a one sentence order in Bergdoll v. Commonwealth, 874 A.2d 1148 (Pa. 5/16/2005), which affirmed the Commonwealth Court's 2004 decision that the removal of the "face-to-face" language from the Pennsylvania Constitution to facilitate testimony by child witnesses did not per se constitute an infringement of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Bergdoll v. Commonwealth, 874 A.2d 1148 (Pa. 2005): the Court upheld the constitutional amendments to Article I, Section 9 (replacing the language "meet the witnesses face-to-face" with "be confronted with the witnesses against him") and Article V, Section 10 (allowing for legislative authorization of closed circuit television in certain child sex abuse cases).
Article I, § 14: Bailable Prisoners
Grimaud v. Commonwealth, 865 A.2d 835 (Pa. 2005): per Justice Eakin, the Court upeld amendments to Article I, Section 6 (Commonwealth right to trial by jury) and Article I, Section 14 (bailable prisoners) adopted by the voters at the general election of 1998. In addition to other holdings, a four-Justice majority adopted the "subject matter test" as the proper standard by which to apply the separate vote requirement of Article IX, Section 1. Thus, the proposed addition of two non-bailable categories to Section 14 (authorized life imprisonment and those prisoners for whom imprisonment alone will reasonably assure public safety) could be presented to the voters in one amendment. (Chief Justice Cappy, joined by Justices Nigro and Baer, dissented from this portion of the opinion).
Article II, § 17: Legislative Reapportionment Commission
Mellow v. Pizzingrilli, 800 A.2d 350 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002): the court upheld the amendment of Article II, Section 17 (providing for election of a new State Senator when reapportionment creates a Senate district without a resident State Senator) against various challenges to amendment process, including holding amendment was not, in and of itself, two separate amendments, and did not violate single amendment rule; Attorney General's plain English statement regarding constitutional amendment on ballot was proper, even though two joint resolutions of proposed amendments did not contain identical language.
Article IV, § 9: Board of Pardons
Pennsylvania Prison Society v. Commonwealth, 565 Pa. 526, 776 A.2d 971 (Pa. 2001): in reversing the Commonwealth Court decision at 727 A.2d 632 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the amendment of Article IV, Section 9 (the membership of the Board of Pardons) which was approved by voters on November 7, 1995, against the claim that the amendment violated Article IX, Section 2 separate vote requirement.