A Pennsylvania court on Monday dismissed a challenge to how lawmakers have bundled together five potential state constitutional amendments, including one regarding abortion, on grounds the legal dispute was not ripe for the judges’ review.
The five-judge Commonwealth Court panel said judges were not passing judgment on the proposed amendments themselves, which Republican leaders pushed through both chambers of the Legislature in the session that ended in November.
Another round of General Assembly approval is still needed, and Judge Lori Dumas wrote that the court did not want to entangle itself in an abstract disagreement with no apparent concrete consequences.
“If every alleged misstep in the constitutional amendment process resulted in a lawsuit, then the potential exists for protracted, piecemeal litigation, which could potentially conflict with election-related deadlines,” she said in an 11-page order.
Pennsylvania requires constitutional amendments to pass both chambers in two consecutive two-year sessions before a referendum can go before voters, who have the final say. Unlike other forms of legislation, the governor has no role.
The judges dismissed the legal challenge that had been filed against the General Assembly by Democratic then-Gov. Tom Wolf and the woman who served as his acting secretary of state, Leigh Chapman. Wolf, who was succeeded in office in January by fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro, had argued the bundling ran afoul of state constitutional rules that prevent combining changes with multiple, unrelated topics.
One proposed amendment would state the Pennsylvania Constitution does not guarantee any rights relating to abortion or public funding of abortions, which Wolf argued was “deceptively compound” and should require two separate votes, one regarding the right to an abortion and a second on public funding. Others in the bundle would require that all voters to show IDs, let gubernatorial candidates choose their own running mates, give lawmakers a way to cancel regulations without facing a veto and establish election audits by the state auditor general.
It’s unclear if the amendments will have the necessary support in the current Legislature, because the state House has since flipped from a Republican majority to a one-seat Democratic margin.
In the state Senate’s first consequential vote of the session, Republicans — who still hold a firm state Senate majority — pushed through a different version of the bundled amendments in January. That bill addressed voter ID and the governor’s power over regulations, and added an amendment that had previously passed both chambers by itself, giving victims of child sexual abuse a new chance to sue perpetrators. Abortion, running mates and election audits were not part of the new amendment bundle.