Pennsylvania Bar Association Acts to Support Ballot Question That Would Prohibit Discrimination on the Basis of Race and Ethnicity

HARRISBURG (April 13, 2021) – Pennsylvania Bar Association President David E. Schwager has issued a statement regarding the association’s support of an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity:

“The Pennsylvania Bar Association supports the addition of language to the Pennsylvania Constitution specifically stating that freedom from discrimination based on race and ethnicity is an essential principal of every individual’s liberty and that equal rights will not be denied or abridged in this commonwealth because of race or ethnicity.

Lawyers are the guardians of legal and natural rights, which undoubtedly include equal protection under the law. We as lawyers represent clients who seek to secure the benefits of our society and legal system, which should include equality under the law.

If Pennsylvania voters in the May 18 primary election approve a ballot question calling for the addition of the proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the right to be free from racial or ethnic discrimination under the law cannot be eliminated except by a judicial decision finding the amendment unconstitutional or the approval of a subsequent constitutional amendment. In addition, if approved, the General Assembly may pass new laws to implement the amendment, but it may not pass a law inconsistent with it.

The Pennsylvania Bar Association Board of Governors unanimously approved a recommendation jointly developed by the association’s Civil and Equal Rights Committee and Minority Bar Committee that the association support the proposed constitutional amendment. The Board’s approval is consistent with the PBA’s extensive history of taking positions in support of equality and nondiscrimination, including twice before taking action to support amendments to the constitution as it relates to gender and equal rights. The proposed amendment on the May 18 primary ballot is virtually the same but includes two additional classes of protection, race and ethnicity. 

Therefore, the PBA is encouraging its members and the public to vote “yes” to the May 18 primary ballot question, ‘Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended by adding a new section providing that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of an individual’s race or ethnicity?’”

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access of legal services; and serve the lawyer members of the state’s largest organized bar association.