MARCH 31, 2021 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1166 is comprised of 3 amendments to the Constitution of Pennsylvania: the Pennsylvania Emergency Declarations Amendment, the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Regardless of Race or Ethnicity Amendment, and the Pennsylvania Legislative Resolution to Extend or Terminate Emergency Declaration Amendment, all statewide ballot measures certified to appear on the ballot, to be decided at the primary election on May 18th, 2021 in Pennsylvania. Two of the three constitutional amendments at  the May 18 primary election are on the governor’s emergency powers, which have been a point of contention for the divided Pennsylvania government since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is reminiscent of the conflict in the United States Senate regarding the filibuster, or the conflict in the Virginia general assembly regarding the redistributing commission. In both instances, the majority party in the legislative is flexing political muscle, with the concern that once out of power as the majority, those same instruments of power that they formed will prosper against them in the hands of the party opposite.

In the midst of these partisan conflicts during a global pandemic, where a mishandled emergency response could mean that COVID-19 and its plurality of mutated variants become globally endemic, how is the charge of the legislature, their public constituency, served?

With one potentially orthogonal move, State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-7) proposed the Equal Rights Regardless of Race or Ethnicity Amendment be included in SB 1186, which when enacted after a successful vote by Pennsylvania voters, should protect the rights of Black and other non-white people, regardless of the direction that the political pendulum swings. The language of the ballot question resembles that of the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Regardless of Sex Amendment of 1971.

The move is orthogonal in that the Equal Rights Regardless of Race or Ethnicity Amendment passed with a unanimous vote in the Pennsylvania State Senate to be included on the pending ballot measure. Whether held at the local, state or federal level, equal justice under law should not be partisan. What is the constructive result of differing interpretations of equal rights, where every point upon which to stipulate is disjoint from one or the other party? How may we prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect interpretation of what equity should look like, not just here, but in its plurality of varied forms, yet stipulating on key points as expressed around the entirety of our fragile world?