Harrisburg City Leaders Challenge Receiver Law

Thems Fighting Words: Harrisburg City Leaders Challenge Receiver Law

* Claim Law Violates 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in Federal Constitution
* Claim Law Ignores State Constitution

This morning members of the Harrisburg City Council, City Controller Dan Miller and City Treasurer John Campbell jointly filed suit in U.S. Federal Court arguing that the statute passed by the state legislature creating a receiver for the City of Harrisburg violates The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Equal Protection Clause provides that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” and protects rights from abridgment by state leaders and governments. The suit alleges that the U.S. Constitution guarantees that no person or class of persons shall be denied the same protection of the law that is enjoyed by other persons or class of persons in like circumstances and that with the appointment of a receiver Harrisburg is being treated differently than all other fiscally distressed Pennsylvania municipalities.

As plaintiffs, the elected leaders also argue that the state legislature violated Article II, sec. 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which places the power to make laws exclusively within the province of the state legislature. The law provides that one branch of government can’t authorize another entity to exercise the power or function which it is constitutionally authorized to exercise itself.

In short, the legislature can’t transfer its law making power to any other hands and therefore improperly delegated its constitutional responsibility to the Governor. Act 47 as passed by the legislature does not allow the state’s executive branch to simply seize the policy-making power of the local governing body.

“This suit is not simply an academic exercise,” said Council President Wanda Williams.

“It goes to the heart of democracy and the rule of law. Neither the Governor nor the Republican controlled legislature has the right to impose their will on the City of Harrisburg just because they disagree with the position of the democratically elected city council. It sets a dangerous precedent that will allow the Commonwealth to overrule decisions made by local elected officials if and when state leaders disagree with those decisions. Every local official should be concerned about the implications of this fundamental departure from the democratic process,” Williams said.

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