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Posted by on Feb 26, 2018 in Civil, Constitutional Provisions, Elections | 0 comments

League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth: The “Free and Equal Elections” Clause Prohibits Gerrymandering

League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth: The “Free and Equal Elections” Clause Prohibits Gerrymandering

EDIT: The map has been released as promised by the Court, along with a brief opinion on February 19, re-outlining the views of the Court. We have included it here for ease of reference.

Ever since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an expedited order in League of Women Voters v. Commonwealth, ordering the Commonwealth Court to proceed with discovery and findings of fact, many have speculated as to whether the Court would really rush out in front of the Supreme Court of the United States on the issue of gerrymandering and issue a decision attempting to proscribe the practice. In January, the Court not only did so, but in a 5-2 decision, required the legislature and governor to come to terms on a new congressional map before this year’s primary elections. The Court also ruled that Pennsylvania’s current congressional map violates the “Free and Equal Elections” clause in Article I, section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Gerrymandering has a long and defiant history in the political systems of the United States—indeed, the practice is named after one of our founding fathers, who himself was hardly its first practitioner. Scholars, politicians and courts have proposed a number of solutions, but to date, none has proven to be particularly successful in curtailing the practice. Some argue that gerrymandering is the inescapable result of the political system, and that the power to draw lines is the natural spoil of the sport.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s opinion may be the most aggressive ever issued on gerrymandering, and it has sparked a political battle between the branches of the Commonwealth’s government. From the perspective of a judiciary-watcher, the case—and this opinion—have been entertaining. Not only has the case drawn national press attention, but it has invoked the more obscure tools of Pennsylvania’s flexible appellate judiciary, relied on the precedence of Pennsylvania’s constitution, fleshed out an Article I right that has lain dormant until now, highlighted the uniqueness of Pennsylvania’s federalist structure, and tested the limits of SCOPA’s powerful jurisdiction. This may be one of the greatest test of SCOPA’s power in the Pennsylvania political structure to date. Only one other state (Alaska) has ever found protections against gerrymandering in a state constitution, and Pennsylvania takes an enormous step in this area of law in holding that the congressional map “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

Majority by Todd: Districts must be compact, contiguous, and maintain the integrity of political subdivisions

In her 5-2 majority opinion, Justice Todd holds that Article I, section 5’s “free and equal elections” clause requires that the districts drawn by the legislature be 1) compact, 2) contiguous, and 3) maintain the integrity of political subdivisions. “Our founding document is the ancestor, not the offspring, of the federal Constitution,” the Court explains, which is significant in part because the traditional grounds for federal suits against state gerrymandering are grounded in the 14th Amendment—written long after the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Article I.

The provision at issue here reads as follows: “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

The Court delves into some of the most notable scholarship on the Pennsylvania Constitution’s development, finding that the “free and equal” provision was a response to the restrictions on the right of political minorities to vote, and that an election is not free and equal if individuals’ votes are targeted for dilution for political purposes. Such targeting robs the voter of his voice, and is antithetical to the democratic process.

The Court includes a great deal of discussion on the scientific and mathematical model findings of several expert witnesses, which support the Court’s ultimate ruling that this plan fails to satisfy the three overarching goals of the free and equal elections clause.

Finally, the Court gives a defense of its decision to rewrite the congressional map if the democrat Governor finds the Republican legislature’s plan unacceptable (which happened yesterday). The Court cites proudly to a Scalia decision from SCOTUS in Growe v. Emison, 507 U.S. 25 (1993), which ruled that federal courts should exercise Pullman abstention where a state court was redistricting the legislative map in an attempt to comply with federal law. (Scalia also called this a “highly political task” in that same opinion—the Court spends relatively little time in this opinion on justiciability or political question doctrine, which have traditionally prevented these suits).

SCOPA also argues that its powers derive from the legislative codification of SCOPA’s King’s Bench authority (SCOPA may “enter a final order or otherwise cause right and justice to be done.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 726). Of course, whether this King’s Bench authority allows the Court to usurp a traditional legislative function is a somewhat different question, which the Court does not address.

Concurrence by Baer: These criteria have no basis in the Constitution

Justice Baer concurs in the result, but would have waited to order a new map until after the primaries. Baer alleges that the lack of time to formulate a new map may even represent due process concerns for the parties to the case. He also has concerns about the clarity of the criteria developed by the Court—criteria which have no basis in the text of the Constitution. “I am unwilling to engraft into the Pennsylvania Constitution criteria for the drawing of congressional districts when the framers chose not to include such provisions despite unquestionably being aware of both the General Assembly’s responsibility for congressional redistricting and the dangers of gerrymandering. It is not this Court’s role to instruct the Legislature as to the ‘manner of holding elections,’ including the relative weight of districting criteria.”

Dissent by Saylor: improvident use of extraordinary jurisdiction

Chief Justice Saylor dissents, arguing that the Court should have awaited the “anticipated guidance from the Supreme Court of the United States,” particularly in light of how long the challengers waited to challenge the 2011 congressional map. The Chief Justice views the matter as inherently political, and would leave greater deference to the political branches.

Saylor also argues there is no “right to an equally effective power of voters in elections,” and that a voter’s diluted vote is part of the democratic process. Citing to a SCOTUS concurrence by Justice O’Connor, Saylor suggests that the “prophylactic” rule created here could have a chilling effect on even legitimate considerations (such as giving racial minorities greater pull in elections). Saylor also notes that the power to draw districts is left by the Federal Constitution’s Article I, section 4, to the legislatures of the states.

Dissent by Mundy: Stare Decisis and lack of constitutional mandate compel a different result

Justice Mundy dissents, arguing that the state constitution provides no clear guidance on how congressional maps are to be created, and criticizing the Court for “these vague judicially-created ‘neutral criteria,’” which “are now the guideposts against which all future congressional redistricting maps will be evaluated, with this Court as the final arbiter of what constitutes too partisan an influence.” Mundy also points to Erfer v. Com, 568 Pa. 128 (2002), in which the Court had previously considered and declined arguments to rule that gerrymandering violated the state constitution. Justice Mundy also discusses the SCOTUS caselaw cited by the majority, discussing how none of these cases dealt with the elections clause of the Federal Constitution’s Article I, section 4.

Conclusion: The political dispute becomes legal; but will the legal become political?

To say there are differing opinions on the validity of the Court’s judgment here is an understatement. The longshot appeal to SCOTUS—denied on February 5—argued that SCOPA had usurped the role delegated to the legislature by the Federal Constitution in Article I, section 4. The argument is that the Federal Constitution gives to certain branches of the state government specific jobs to do which may not be reviewed or impinged by other branches of the state government in order to ensure that certain necessary tasks within our federal system are left outside of state politics. If you recall, this was the argument embraced by a concurrence in Bush v. Gore in overruling a state court’s interpretation of its own laws, and instead accepting the state legislature’s prescribed process for vote counting. This argument may yet come back, depending on how SCOPA draws the congressional map.

But the biggest gripe which opponents of the decision have is that the Court has entered the political fray and rendered political disagreements justiciable. There will be hew and cry when a democratic map is upheld, or vice versa, and there will never be peace. The Court’s bold move may usher in calls for reining in the Court’s power, or even for a constitutional convention. When the political becomes legal, there is a danger that the legal will become political, subject to whims and passions. Law is a science, or so we lawyers like to think, separate and apart from the politicians’ arts. Now SCOTUS will have its turn; will its ruling be as bold? Or will SCOTUS dodge again on justiciability grounds? With League of Women Voters, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court takes a bold step into the fray. History will judge whether the step was wise or ill-considered.

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Posted by on Jan 22, 2018 in Constitutional Provisions | 0 comments

League of Women Voters v. Com: Congressional Map Violates PA Constitution

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided today in a 4-3 per curiam decision that the congressional map drawn by the General Assembly is too partisan, and must be stricken because it violates the Pennsylvania Constitution. “[T]he Court finds as a matter of law that the Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and, on that sole basis, we hereby strike it as unconstitutional.” The Court then enjoined the map’s use for the upcoming primaries.

The Court will draw a new map “on the evidentiary record developed int he Commonwealth Court” unless the General Assembly and Governor agree to another map on or before February 15, 2018. The Court will allow all parties “the opportunity to be heard” on the new map, and assures everyone that the primaries will go forward as scheduled. In complying with SCOPA’s order, “any congressional districting plan shall consist of: congressional districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.”

Analysis: “sole basis”

The Court goes out of its way in the per curiam opinion to state that the Pennsylvania Constitution is the sole basis for its ruling. This makes the ruling unappealable, and makes it unlikely that SCOTUS’s ruling in Gill v. Whitford will have any impact on the map in Pennsylvania. If the ruling had merely been that the map was unconstitutional, the ruling could have been appealed unless it could be shown the Court’s ruling was on separate and independent state law grounds. SCOPA was apparently eager to avoid any delay in the implementation of this order, and made clear this ruling is a state law issue, only.

The Court does not elaborate on which provision(s) of the Constitution was violated, and in an unusual step, does not specify that a future opinion is forthcoming. The scant, three-page opinion may be all we ever have to go by in this case.

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Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in Civil, Constitutional Provisions | 0 comments

Scarnati v. Wolf: Press Releases aren’t “Proclamations”

In Scarnati v. Wolf, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rules 6-1 that a press release does not satisfy the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirement of veto by proclamation under Article IV, Section 15.

In 2014, two appropriations bills passed the House and Senate, and were presented to the Governor for his signature. The House adjourned upon passing the bill, and the Governor vetoed the bill, returning it to the parliamentarian of the House. Unlike under the Federal Constitution, where the President’s veto back to the House would be the end of the matter if the House had adjourned, the Pennsylvania Constitution requires the Governor to issue a “proclamation” announcing his veto. The Governor, in this case, issued a press release announcing and explaining his veto. The House and Senate challenged the veto in court as invalid.

Two issues were presented in this appeal: first, what is an “adjournment” under this clause? Since the House adjourned, and the Senate did not, was the body adjourned such that the onus lay on the Governor to issue a proclamation, or on the House to re-consider the vetoed provisions of the two bills?

Majority by Wecht: The House was Adjourned, and Notice by Proclamation Was Required

The majority, speaking by Justice Wecht, held that the General Assembly did stand adjourned when the vetoed provisions of the bills were returned to the House parliamentarian, and that the Governor’s failure to publish a proclamation of his veto was fatal to the rejection of the bill. Discussing the overlap and distinctions of the Federal Government’s constitutionally prescribed procedure, the Court discussed the underlying goals of the “filing and proclamation” provisions of Article IV, Section 15. Paramount among these is public notice of the struggle between political branches, and the current status of a proposed bill.

The Court had little trouble dispensing with the “ambiguity” about when the legislature actually adjourned. There had been some discussion that the House had impermissibly adjourned without the Senate’s approval, but given that both houses had entered their adjournments upon their journals without any note of objection, the Court concluded that the presumption was in favor of constitutionality.

Given, then, that the House prevented the return of the Governor’s veto by its adjournment, the Court noted that the
The Court acknowledged that the parliamentarian is charged with receiving vetoes from the Governor during the regular session, but went on to reject the Governor’s argument that the parliamentarian was an “agent” of the House designated to accept “service” of vetoes. “We reject the Governor’s argument that the procedure utilized for the return of a bill during a legislative session somehow dictates the procedure to be used during an adjournment of the General Assembly.” The Court goes on to note that, even if the parliamentarian could be designated an agent for the House, there is no evidence that he was ever so designated.

Thus, the Court was constrained to consider whether the Governor appropriately followed the “filing and proclamation” protocol to finalize his veto. Although the Governor appropriately filed his objections with the Secretary of State, his issuance of a press release did not satisfy the requirements of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rejected Governor Wolf’s argument that changing technology made the press release or even a tweet a sufficient form of notice to all citizens. “Formality is a critical tool in distinguishing political rhetoric and advocacy in its myriad forms from public notice of a constitutionally or legally significant declaration. Such formality cannot be abandoned.”

Historically, proclamations in Pennsylvania have followed a very precise format. While that format need not be followed precisely, at least some of the “indicia” or “hallmarks” of formality needed to be included. These included the Governor’s seal, and most importantly, the proclamation had to include explicit language demonstrating that the Governor was following the “filing and proclamation” procedure under the Constitution. Thus, his “informal communication to the public via mass media” was insufficient to sustain a veto.

Conclusion: Budget Finality…For the 2014 Budget

This case demonstrates the importance of having constitutional scholars on staff in political offices. It is fairly important that the Governor’s staff gave little or no thought to the procedure for properly vetoing a bill under the circumstances, and only after the fact did they give thought to how to spin the situation to show that they had complied with the rules. As the old saying goes, it’s best to measure twice so you have to cut only once.
The precise definition of a “proclamation” may now come under fire in future cases. The Court offers a general form that has sufficed in the past, and the Governor’s office would be wise to use that form in future cases.
It is unfortunate that a case like this takes three years to reach a final ruling at SCOPA. Meanwhile, provisions of the budget laws have been under fire and in limbo. Now, at least, there is finality on the budget from three years ago.

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Posted by on Nov 23, 2017 in Attorney Discipline, Civil, Constitutional Provisions | 0 comments

In re Roca, In re Segal: No, we can’t just ignore the Constitution

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is, perhaps, the most powerful state Supreme Court within its own jurisdiction. Given comprehensive power over all attorney discipline matters by the state Constitution, our Supreme Court has struck down validly-passed statutes that transgress this judicial power. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court also maintains “King’s Bench” authority to step into any case at any time and render a decision on any matter, great or small, within a case. Other jurisdictions limit their high courts by practice or rule.

These cases call on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether the Commonwealth’s Constitution limits SCOPA’s power to re-consider the punishments handed down by the Court of Judicial Discipline (CJD), and whether its common law King’s Bench power gives the Court power to intervene where the Constitution says it cannot.

Three judges were caught up in various schemes involving phone calls to one another and receiving phone calls from government officials asking for special favors in various cases, including entering continuances, re-opening cases closed by default, and granting or denying motions. The calls were recorded by the FBI pursuant to criminal investigations and then turned over to the CJD.

One judge resigned amidst the scandal; the remaining judges were removed from the bench and barred from holding future judicial office. Judge Segal’s offenses seem to be much more serious, involving an ongoing and persistent pattern of ex parte phone calls, favors and other judicial misconduct. Judge Roca’s conduct was limited to one instance in which she requested a favor from another judge for a family member. Roca argued that her conduct did not warrant the harsh penalties imposed on her, and that the Court should moderate her punishment in consideration of the punishment imposed for past crimes.

These cases were argued together, but ruled on separately. I will focus on In re Roca because its legal argument is much more interesting, and because the ruling in In re Segal follows a fortiore.

Majority by CJ Saylor: King’s Bench power does not override the Constitution

Pennsylvania’s Chief Justice, speaking for the 4-3 majority, makes the final ruling on this judicial misconduct. The Chief Justice rejects the notion that the Court’s common law King’s Bench power allows it to step into a proceeding for which the Commonwealth’s Constitution strictly limits review. The Court is limited to reviewing the record to ensure the facts found were not erroneous and that the punishment inflicted is not unlawful. It is not the place of the Court to trample the prerogative of the people or override the Constitution.

Relying on the plain language of Article V, § 18(c)(2), the Court declares that its standard of review is limited to overturning a judgment which is clearly contrary to law. The Court may not second-guess the punishment prescribed by the CJD, nor may it replace CJD’s judgment with its own. The Court may not ignore the Constitution in favor of its common law King’s Bench power.

In response to the claim that the CJD exceeded its authority in removing the Judge, the Supreme Court rules, “The CJD has wide discretion to fashion the appropriate penalty once it finds a predicate violation.” The Court opens the door to the idea that a punishment could be so beyond the pale of appropriateness, but does not make clear what that punishment would be.

Finally, the Court rejects Roca’s claim that she should not face such a severe punishment because it is unfair to her. The primary purpose of Judicial Discipline is to maintain the public’s confidence in the judiciary and to repair the public’s perceptions where misbehavior has brought the courts into disrepute. Thus, Roca’s claims of a personal right to more merciful consideration fall against the public concern.

Segal’s situation is far more serious, and Segal’s arguments are not as well developed. The Court’s majority affirmed the convictions of both judges.

Dissent by Donohue

Justice Donohue dissents, appalled at the “breathtakingly narrow definition of our standard of review,” which is “patently violative of the United States Constitution,” argues that the Court should engage a much broader inquiry into the conviction, and consider these appeals like any other. She urges that the Court should ensure the equal administration of justice for every citizen—including disgraced former judges.


The Pennsylvania Constitution made the CJD an independent body capable of exercising its discretion in determining what to do with judges who had violated the public trust. SCOPA’s power to review these decisions is accordingly limited. This is one of the few places where our Supreme Court’s power is limited.

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Posted by on Oct 19, 2017 in Civil, Constitutional Provisions, Tax Law | 0 comments

Nextel v. Commonwealth: Uniformity Clause Bars Flat Cap for Taxes, but Statute is Severable

When paying corporate income tax in Pennsylvania, a corporation is permitted to carry over a net loss from the previous year to reduce the current tax year’s taxable income. However, the amount of deduction the corporation may receive—the amount of “net loss” it may carry over from the prior year—is capped at the greater of 12.5% of its current tax year income, or a flat cap of $3 million.

Nextel’s 2007 deduction from its 2006 net losses was capped at 12.5% of its 2007 income because this was greater than the $3 million flat fee cap. Nextel then brought a refund claim, and subsequently brought suit arguing that the $3 million cap that they did not use in tax year 2007 violated the Uniformity Clause in Pennsylvania Constitution, Article VIII, § 1, and—here’s where it gets tricky—that both caps on net loss deductions must be stricken because the statute was inseverable. Because the calculation they did not use was unconstitutional, the entire statute had to be stricken.

Majority by Todd: The flat cap on carryover funds violates the Uniformity Clause, but is severable from the rest of the statute

The Court agreed with the first, but not the second of Nextel’s arguments, and so Nextel wins, but really loses. Justice Todd’s majority opinion comprehensively considers the Uniformity Clause, discussing its background as a popularly-demanded addition to the “Reform Constitution” of 1874, a reaction to the abusive political power of railroads which allowed them to maneuver the General Assembly to exempt the railroads and their allies from taxes, and incrementally placing larger taxing burdens on the rest of the population to make up for the shortfall.

The Uniformity Clause, which comes into the modern 1968 Constitution unchanged, requires “substantial uniformity, which means as nearly uniform as practicable in view of the instrumentalities with which and subjects upon which tax laws operate.”

Todd wrote that Nextel’s “as-applied” argument against the flat cap is strong because of the numbers: 98.8% of all companies were exempt under the $3 million flat cap, while Nextel and a small handful of other corporate taxpayers were “required to shoulder the entire corporate net income tax burden” because of their greater income. In this respect, Nextel bears a larger burden of the corporate taxation burden in the Commonwealth than other companies. The Court found, therefore, that the tax statute “has created disparate tax obligations between these two classes of similarly situated taxpayers based solely on the value of the property involved.” This disparate treatment violates the Uniformity Clause, and the flat cap must be stricken.

 However, the Court did not agree that the statute was inseverable. Severability is the doctrine that determines when a statute may be left standing even without a portion of the statute stricken as unconstitutional. In other words, if a statute says you may not drive red, blue or green cars on the highway, and the Court finds that the prohibition of red cars is unconstitutional, must the whole statute be stricken, or are blue and green cars still prohibited?

Noting the general policy of Pennsylvania that all statutes are severable, codified by 1 Pa.C.S. § 1925, the Court explored two statutory exceptions to severability, which can both be phrased simply: where the legislature would not have passed the remaining statute in its remaining form, or where the statute simply doesn’t make sense without the stricken provision, the whole statute must fail.

Here, there was no reason to think the two legislative goals served by the corporate “net loss” taxation construct were completely defeated by striking one version of measure. Because the percentage cap was valid, and would likely have been passed by the legislature even if they had known the “flat cap” would be stricken down.

Concurrence by Baer: Nextel’s Challenge should be viewed as both Facial and As-Applied

 Justice Baer’s concurrence, joined by Justices Donohue and Wecht, argues that Nextel’s challenge should have been considered as both an “as-applied” challenge to the statute (which is how Nextel characterized the lawsuit), and a “facial” challenge to the validity of the statute (which Nextel disavowed). “[Nextel’s] challenge necessarily implicates the facial validity” of the statute, and the Court should have considered these implications in its majority opinion. “I write separately to clarify that, in my view, our holding declares the NLC unconstitutional on its face.”

Justice Baer appears to be correct that the majority opinion treats the statute as stricken as to all parties, not just Nextel.

Conclusion: Assorted Thoughts

A few scattered notes on this case.

First, the majority notes that Pennsylvania was the first state to include a uniform taxation requirement in its constitution. Thus, Pennsylvania’s continued grappling with this provision provides some guidance for other courts on this issue, and for other states considering adopting such a provision.

Second, although the reasons for the delay are not totally clear, this case is being adjudicated ten years after the tax year in question.

Third, the opinion doesn’t discuss Nextel’s standing, or the lack thereof. Nextel sued over a provision that didn’t apply to it in an attempt to strike down the provision that did apply. Another way of dealing with this case might have been to say that Nextel could not prove the whole statute was unconstitutional, and to decline to reach the merits of the issue of flat tax provisions. Alternatively, the Court may have considered that Nextel was burdened by the dichotomy, and that the lighter tax burden of other companies was harming Nextel directly. Regardless, this issue wasn’t discussed.

Finally, Nextel raises an interesting argument that the Court’s refusal to knock down the whole statute disincentivizes others to challenge tax statutes under the constitutional provision. This argument was rejected by the Court—obviously, they can’t just give you a better judgment than the law requires to “incentivize” lawsuits. But the argument offers a practical insight into a major hurdle to Uniformity Clause legislation—who wants to pay to bring these suits? Most individual taxpayers don’t stand to gain enough, and companies under the $3 million threshold certainly wouldn’t bring one. That leaves it to companies like Nextel or major casinos to take up the fight—and if they don’t think it benefits their bottom line, we may be stuck with unconstitutional taxes.

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Posted by on Jul 20, 2017 in Constitutional Provisions, Criminal, Suppression | 0 comments

Com v. Shabezz: Automatic standing in Pennsylvania to challenge unconstitutional searches

Saleem Shabezz was observed by a policeman in a McDonald’s Parking Lot—a “hot zone,” known for drug deals by the police in Philadelphia (always a great place to find hot ‘zones). The officer saw Shabezz from his patrol car, 45 feet away, conducting a “hand-to-hand transaction with the driver.” This transaction was “a cupping and dropping motion to transfer small objects into the driver’s hand,” and then a subsequent exchange of “something,” which the officer assumed to be money—or at least, this is the remarkably detailed story told by the officer at the suppression hearing.

The incident reports about the exchange, on the other hand, are more generic. The reports simply said Shabezz opened the passenger door to the car, leaned inside, and conducted a brief conversation with the driver. Shabezz returned to the red Acura he had arrived in as a passenger, which attempted to exit the lot.

Whatever happened before this moment, what happened next is uncontested: the cops stopped the Acura, Shabezz the passenger fled and was apprehended, and a host of drug-dealing equipment and drugs were found in the car (including “heat-sealed” baggies, scales for weighing powders, etc).

The trial court found the dramatic enhancements of the story described in the first paragraph above to be a bit too convenient, too late, and suppressed the evidence gathered in the stop as unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. But the Commonwealth appealed this ruling, arguing that Shabezz did not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the areas searched (because it wasn’t his car), and thus, that he had no standing to contest the search.

Majority by Wecht: Shabezz has standing to challenge the search

Justice Wecht, writing for 5 members of the unanimous Court, outlines the development of “standing” in federal constitutional law. Wecht demonstrates how the Supreme Court of the United States quickly narrowed and then abandoned the concept of standing from the “automatic standing” rule of the 1960s, preferring to require Defendants to demonstrate a privacy interest in the area searched before being permitted to challenge a search under the law.

But Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has always afforded more protection under the Pennsylvania Constitution than the Federal Supreme Court has under the Federal Constitution, and thus, Pennsylvania still recognizes automatic standing. But while standing allows the defendant to “get his or her foot in the courtroom door,” the Defendant must also demonstrate “that he had a privacy interest in the place invaded or thing seized that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.”

Wecht goes on to argue that the Defendant in this case need not demonstrate a personal privacy interest in this case, because, “This case is about an illegal seizure of a vehicle and its occupants. It is not a vehicle search case.” (emphasis in the original).

Quoting from closely-analogous Third Circuit caselaw, the Court concludes that a defendant in a car that was unconstitutionally stopped need not show another unconstitutional search to have the evidence gathered from the unconstitutional stop suppressed. He has standing, he may challenge the stop, and having done so, he succeeds on the merits. “We hold that the contested evidence, tainted by the initial illegality, must be suppressed, even absent a demonstrable expectation of privacy in the locations where the evidence was found.”

Concurrence by Mundy: There are no “per se” rules under the Constitution

Justice Mundy, joined by Justice Baer, reminds us that the Fourth Amendment creates few “per se” rules, and that “the Court’s decision should not be read to suggest all searches stemming from unconstitutional seizures are automatically fruit of the poisonous tree.” A case by case analysis will reveal attenuation in some cases, and reasonableness in the overall circumstances of others. “Although this case is relatively straightforward, other cases may arise where the chronology of events is more complex, which may alter the calculus.”

Conclusion: Are we still talking about the Fourth Amendment?

The question granted for appeal, the Court’s reliance on Third Circuit caselaw, and the ultimate holding all seem to be interpreting the Fourth Amendment. However, the Court’s bold reminder that the Pennsylvania Constitution affords greater protection than the Federal Constitution is thrown into the midst of everything, and it brings a curiosity about this case to the foreground. Pennsylvania’s view of standing on the Fourth Amendment, by definition, must comport with the Supreme Court of the United States’s interpretation. But this opinion seems to differ in important respects from Federal Supreme Court caselaw, not the least of which is on the point of automatic standing. Indeed, with SCOTUS’s recent expansion of the “attenuation” doctrine in Utah v. Strieff, it seems hard for SCOPA to claim this case does not represent attenuation.

Perhaps I’m wrong—but from where I sit, the Court may wish to develop its own caselaw around Pennsylvania’s constitutional provisions (in this case, Article I, § 8) to fortify against encroachment by the federal courts. Of course, SCOPA is largely bound by the arguments that the litigants bring them, and this case appears to have been certified for appeal only on Fourth Amendment grounds, not under Article I. Regardless, Pennsylvania is blessed to have a strong set of Article I rights, and I hope that SCOPA future considerations of these rights remains bold and expansive, as this opinion promises they are likely to be.

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