PA Ballot Initiative is a Bad Idea for Personal Rights

The Democratic and Republican parties of Pennsylvania like to pretend that they represent different ideas and actions. While there are some small differences in managing government, the two major parties agree on far more than they oppose.

Both parties support higher taxes and increased government spending. They both love the idea of backroom deals that reduce the power of third parties (like controlling public debates and the state gerrymandering, which was originally sanctioned by both major parties).

But the biggest agreement between the Pennsylvania Republican and Democratic is in the increase of the power of government over the rights of the individual. The latest example is the “Victim Rights Initiative’ appearing on November’s ballot.

Like most bi-partisan power initiatives, this proposed amendment to the state constitution is written in a way that obscures the real purpose of the law. The ballot is a tiny version of the amendment that appears to grant new rights to alleged crime victims. Among these ‘rights’ are the power to refuse to cooperate with the defenders of the alleged criminal. The ballot assumes both guilt and victim, without constitutionally protected due process.

The full documentation on the law may be found here: https://www.dos.pa.gov/VotingElections/CandidatesCommittees/RunningforOffice/Pages/Joint-Resolution-2019-1.aspx

The ACLU and others have rightfully pointed out that the problem with this proposal is that it pretends to balance the rights of the alleged victim against the rights of the accused. This is a misunderstanding of how our laws work. Due process is designed to protect the rights of the individual against the abuse of state power. This includes providing the accused with the tools required to defend themselves against an accusation. This amendment would enable attorneys for the alleged victim to refuse cooperation including having their client even testify when called by the defense, It also eliminates Right of Discovery, meaning that any materials that may exonerate the accused may be hidden from the jury.

Even if passed (which seems likely, given the poor wording of the law) the constitutional problems raised in this badly written law will make enforcement almost impossible. Trials will go on forever, as the courts attempt to navigate a broken Pennsylvania constitution. This ballot initiative should be voted down.

Both the Pennsylvania Democratic and Republican parties are attempting to perpetuate a myth about the rights of state citizens. In the first line of the initiative are the words, ‘Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims…” The myth is that the state grants rights to individuals. It is the citizens who grant powers to their government, and these powers should be designed to protect the rights of the individual.

Libertarians understand that government exists to protect the rights of individuals. And that, while states are granted just powers to protect those rights, the people can amend those powers to further restrict the state when it becomes too obtrusive. We urge the Republican and Democratic parties to re-read the Declaration of Independence and we urge voters to reject this government power grab on the ballot in November.

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