Pennsylvania’s highest court rejected a request by Gov. Tom Wolf to immediately take up his challenge to legislation that would advance a proposed state constitutional amendment declaring there is no right to abortion in the state, along with four other unrelated proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The abortion-related amendment could go before voters as early as May 2023.
Abortion laws have been in flux across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 precedent Roe v. Wade almost three months ago, finding that there was no right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution and returning the regulation of abortion to the states. In the first statewide abortion vote since the decision, Kansas voters last month turned down a proposed amendment to their state constitution that would have removed abortion protections.
In the Sept. 12 order (pdf) in Wolf v. General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, court file 73-MM-2022, the Middle District of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania did not provide reasons for its decision. Wolf had asked the court to invoke its rarely used “King’s Bench” power to hear the case without it first being adjudicated by a trial court.
The state Supreme Court refused, but it did indicate in its two-page decision that Wolf was free “to seek similar relief” from the state’s Commonwealth Court, which is usually the first court to entertain challenges to state legislation.
Erica Clayton Wright, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, a Republican, was pleased with the ruling.
The state Supreme Court was right to turn down Wolf’s application, Wright told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The extraordinary King’s Bench power “should not be used to permit or encourage parties to bypass the lower courts in favor of the high court when it suits their end goals.”
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, a Democrat, was disappointed by the ruling.
“The GOP’s abuse of the constitutional amendment process will cause unnecessary pain and hardship for thousands of PA’s women and families,” Costa told the newspaper.
Wolf, a Democrat, filed suit in late July, asking the state Supreme Court to declare Senate Bill 106 of 2021 invalid and enjoin further action on the proposed constitutional amendments. One of his arguments was that multiple proposed constitutional amendments cannot be included in a single legislative bill and must be voted on separately by lawmakers.
The governor’s application for extraordinary relief described Senate Bill 106 as “an omnibus vehicle designed by the General Assembly to bring radical change to women’s reproductive rights, Commonwealth elections and the constitutional separation of powers.”
The abortion amendment was bundled in the legislation with four other amendments. One amendment would require candidates for governor to select their own running mate for lieutenant governor; another would have the state auditor general audit elections; another would require voters to produce government ID at polling places; and another would require legislative approval for regulatory changes proposed by the governor.
Having been approved once by the Republican-controlled Legislature, the proposed amendments still need to be approved by lawmakers a second time in a subsequent legislative session before being placed on the ballot.
Wolf denounced the package of amendments when he filed his lawsuit.
“The Republican-led General Assembly continues to take extraordinary steps to dismantle access to abortion and implement a radical agenda,” the governor said.
“Frustrated that their legislation may face my veto pen again, they instead loaded multiple unrelated constitutional amendments into a joint resolution and rammed the bill through during the budget process,” Wolf said. “As long as I remain governor, I will take every step to ensure that abortion remains legal, safe and accessible in Pennsylvania.”
After Wolf sued, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is now the Republican nominee for governor in the Nov. 8 elections, called the legal action a “publicity stunt.”
“No matter how much the governor and his allies try to spin it, this lawsuit threatens to take away the voice of the people he supposedly represents. I can think of no legitimate reason why Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have the final word on what their state constitution says,” Mastriano said.
“The Wolf administration fears most residents don’t share its views on taxpayer-funded abortions, voter ID, election audits and regulatory reforms, so instead the governor ran to the courts in an attempt to skew the balance of power back into his favor and exert unilateral control over Pennsylvania.”
This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Sept. 13, 2022, in The Epoch Times.