The voters in Pennsylvania approved a potentially important amendment to that state’s constitution in a May 18 referendum. The amendment reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the race or ethnicity of the individual.” It passed by a hefty margin, 71% yes, 29% no.
The fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution provides that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” With regard to matters of race or ethnicity, the federal courts have long held that the equal protection language creates in essence the protection that Pennsylvania has now added to its own constitution in somewhat different terms. So: why did the promoters of this new language, and in the end the voters, consider the state constitutional amendment necessary?
The Thing to Know:
As the ballot summary says, the addition of this language creates a standard of right for all persons in Pennsylvania independent of the US Constitution or how it is interpreted. If the federal courts should adopt restrictive interpretations of the 14th, so that it comes to guarantee less that it seems to, the Pennsylvania language will still be there as a backstop.