At the end of last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a summary decision that upheld and adopted a lower court opinion that struck down portions of Pennsylvania’s bias crime law (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 2710) on constitutional grounds. The lower court found that the legislature had violated the state constitution by enacting a bill whose original purpose had been altered or amended in violation of Pennsylvania Constitution art. III, sec. 1. The bill had added sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity (as well as ancestry and mental and physical disability) to the bases for penalty enhancement under the state bias crime statute.
These additional bases for penalty enhancement were added in the course of passage of a bill that began as a measure to criminalize crop destruction. The court refused to read the purpose of the original bill broadly as amending the criminal code, and instead read the purpose as the narrow one of criminalizing crop destruction. Because bias crimes are far afield from crop destruction, the court held that the original purpose of the bill had been amended in contravention of the state constitution.
There are already efforts underway to re-enact the relevant portions of Pennsylvania’s bias crime law so that sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity (and ancestry and mental and physical disability) will once again be grounds for penalty enhancement. It is worth noting that the bill adding these bases for penalty enhancement to the bias crime law originally passed the state legislature by overwhelming votes and was signed into law by a Republican governor.