Video: PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane discusses the extent of Corruption in PA courts.
“I knew that I was walking into public corruption. Which again is why I ran.
But I will tell you this. Even I am shocked at the level of public corruption.
I am shocked at how deep it goes.
I am shocked at how powerful it is.
I have never seen anything like this.”
– Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania Attorney General
PENNSYLVANIA’S CONSTITUTION: A BRIEF HISTORY
The citizens can change the Pennsylvania constitution by amendment or convention. Our constitution contains a provision that establishes a detailed procedure for amending single sections. Under that procedure the legislature must enact a statute proposing the amendment to a section of the constitution in two successive legislative sessions, and after each enactment a majority of Pennsylvania citizens must vote affirmatively for the proposed constitutional changes in a general election. The citizens of Pennsylvania have amended sections of their constitution numerous times since this constitutional provision for amendment was adopted in the Constitution of 1838.
Although there is no express language that spells out procedures for a constitutional convention, the Pennsylvania Constitution contains clear language in Article 1, Section 2 that authorizes conventions:
All power is inherent in the people . . . . For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government. . . .
Pennsylvanians have made major changes to their constitution five times by convention.
Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776.
The events involving the American Colonists’ growing dissatisfaction with King George and English rule that led to the American Revolution are well-known. There were also strong geographic and economic conflicts and resentments within Pennsylvania that contributed significantly to the form and nature of the first constitution adopted in 1776.
In the mid- eighteenth century farmers and settlers in the central and western part of Pennsylvania harbored strong resentment against the bankers, merchants and aristocrats in the eastern part of the state because Quaker power holders there were pacifists and would not send military help to settlers, who were being attacked by Indians. Moreover, political power was retained in the east by limiting the franchise and by refusal to admit new counties in the west, even after they became relatively heavily settled. Tradesmen in the east were resentful of the Pennsylvania political power structure, because they could not vote and were unrepresented.
On May 15, 1776 the Continental Congress issued a call by for the colonies to overthrow England’s rule and establish constitutions of their own that would insure the “happiness and safety” of their inhabitants. Various committees that had been established in every county of Pennsylvania then met, conducted an election, and held a constitutional convention. The convention created the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776.
That first Pennsylvania constitution, like most constitutions, contained two main parts: a declaration or bill of individual rights and a frame or structure of government. The first Pennsylvania declaration or bill of rights was heavily influenced by the prior government of proprietor William Penn, who as a Quaker recognized generally in the document governing the colony that “all men have a right: to life, liberty, property, happiness, and safety.” The Declaration also granted numerous specific individual rights. The Declaration of Rights in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 was a major source contributing to the federal bill of rights. The first constitution of Pennsylvania also lifted all restrictions on voting, and made provision for adding counties and reapportionment. The Declaration of Rights was so farsighted that only a very few of its provisions have been changed since 1776, and they are still part of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The frame or structure of government created by the Constitution of 1776 was a complete failure as a blueprint for government; it worked so badly that the federal government and other states used it as a model for how not to structure their government in a constitution. The first Pennsylvania Constitution created a unicameral legislature with a clause granting all powers necessary to operate a free state to the legislature. It also provided for appointment of judges for a term of seven years, an executive consisting of a governor and council, and an entity called the Council of Censors. Provisions in the constitution provided that the people themselves would be a check on the legislature, and the Council of Censors every seventh year could recommend that unjust laws be repealed or that the constitution by amended.
This structure of government was unsuccessful. Under it, there were no effective checks on, nor any power to balance against, the legislature. As a result, the legislature took many actions that appeared to be despotic. For example, the legislature directly overruled judicial cases that it did not agree with, and it confiscated property of persons suspected of being Tories sympathetic to England without trial, and also set aside jury verdicts. Further, except for the Legislature, the government was completely paralyzed. The Council of Censors had no real power to check the legislature; the executive had no veto power.
Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790
Soon after adoption of the Constitution of 1776, it became apparent that there were many problems with it, and in the mid to late 1780’s a campaign began to change the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Assembly enacted a statute that created a constitutional convention in 1789. The convention met and created a new constitution which the state adopted in 1790.
The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 resembled more modern constitutions with which we are familiar today. It provided for a bicameral legislature elected by the citizens at a general election, a single governor elected for a three year term with power to veto statutes, and for a judiciary appointed by the governor removable only by impeachment. A major advance was that the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of 1790 prohibited the legislature from taking away individual rights protected by the Declaration.
The Pennsylvania constitution of 1790 has been described as a “model” constitution. Because of its workable frame of government with effective checks and balances and its extensive Declaration of Rights that was expressly declared to be protected from arbitrary government action. It created a workable government and protected citizen rights from arbitrary government invasion.
Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776
In 1776 Pennsylvania enacted its first state constitution in direct response to the Declaration of Independence and the instructions of the Second Continental Congress to the colonies to reject British rule. Dedicated to the idea of placing authority in the hands of the people, and specifying a broad range of rights, the constitution proved to be controversial. Over the next fourteen years, criticism of the document came both from within Pennsylvania and from across the new nation, and the state replaced the constitution in 1790.
The constitutions of 1776 and 1790 each contained TERM LIMITS for every public office named.
With the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution had begun. Congress issued two resolutions in May 1776 calling for the colonies to reject British rule and establish governments based on the authority of the people. Pennsylvania had refused to join the rebellion, and Congress hoped to win its support. Instead, revolutionaries in Pennsylvania quickly held public meetings and devoted themselves to electing representatives to a constitutional convention. The noted American statesman and philosopher Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in organizing and leading the endeavor. The constitution was debated and revised for four months and was approved on September 28, 1776.
Although five other states also adopted constitutions during this time, the Pennsylvania document was unique. In outlook, the constitution bore the mark of the French philosopher JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU, a critic of representative government who viewed it as a necessary evil. Thus, under the Pennsylvania Constitution, government would aspire to the democratic ideal of maximum participation by citizens while simultaneously ensuring fair, just, and Legal Representation by politicians.
The constitution pursued this goal in several ways. It created a unicameral legislature—having only one body—a feature unique among American states. Legislators were to be “persons most noted for wisdom and virtue“ and were required to swear that they would do nothing “injurious to the people.”
In an effort to rotate the largest number of people in and out of office, the rules mandated annual elections and limited terms to four out of every seven years. The framers had two goals: to make representatives more responsive to the people, and to allow bad politicians to be removed from office swiftly. To ensure participation by citizens, lawmaking itself was controlled. No bill could be enacted until it had been printed for general reading and, except in rare instances, until a year after its printing.
Strikingly, no provision was made for a state governor. Instead, the executive function fell to an elected twelve-member executive council. These members served staggered three-year terms, making them ineligible for reelection until four years after their terms ended. The framers believed that this approach not only served to train more citizens for political leadership, it also helped to thwart what they most detested: “an inconvenient aristocracy” of politicians. The council and the legislature elected a president and vice president. The president could not exercise any power — whether appointing judges or commanding the state’s militia — without the consent of a majority of the council.
Just as the constitution placed restraints on lawmakers, so did it look skeptically at the judiciary. Pennsylvania judges were not given independence. The legislature could revoke judgeships, which lasted seven years, for “misbehavior” at any time. As an additional limitation on the judiciary, the constitution created a special body called the Council of Censors, which met every seven years to review the constitutionality of laws.
The rights granted by the Pennsylvania Constitution were among the most liberal in the United States at that time. The right to vote was based on a minimal property interest; it belonged to free men above the age of twenty-one who had resided in the state for one year and had paid public taxes, as well as to the sons of freeholders. The constitution defended the free exercise of religion, stating that no “man who acknowledges the being of a God, [may] be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen” regardless of his “religious sentiments or peculiar mode of religious worship.” Other significant liberties included the right to buy one’s release from military service, not to be taxed without the consent of lawmakers, and to receive liberal DUE PROCESS in court.
Despite its idealism the Pennsylvania Constitution was neither a success at home nor outside the state. Critics complained about its heavy reliance on a revolving, and extremely powerful, legislature. Influential forces in the state, particularly those in business, attacked the uncertain conditions that it created for commerce.
The Federalists, who believed in a strong federal government, detested its independence. Lawyers and judges decried the weakened judiciary. By 1790 the experiment had ended: the state replaced the Constitution of 1776 with the Constitution of 1790 modeled on the U.S. Constitution’s Separation of Powers and its adherence to the idea of a republic.
Before the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, Pennsylvania was governed under a Treaty executed by William Penn and king Charles the Second of England. This instrument is titled “Frame of Government of Pennsylvania – April 25, 1682“. By Pa. statute Title 1, section 1503, this Treaty remains in force.