Defending the Pennsylvania House's Right to Legislate
A team of litigators from Holland & Knight's Atlanta and Philadelphia offices successfully defended the Pennsylvania House of Representatives' authority to legislate by, in part, defending election laws recently passed in bipartisan fashion by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Working in bipartisan fashion, the Pennsylvania House and Senate crafted and passed Act 77 of 2019, which modernized the state's election code and was its first major overhaul in almost a century. Seeking to legislate through the courts, multiple plaintiffs filed lawsuits requesting the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to declare Act 77's recent legislative changes as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs strategically failed to name the Pennsylvania House and Senate as defendants in the lawsuits – even though both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly have the exclusive authority to legislate laws regulating elections under the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.
As a result, the Pennsylvania House authorized former House Speaker Mike Turzai and former House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler and now House Speaker (House leaders) to intervene in the cases on the House's behalf to defend Act 77, enlisting Holland & Knight's help as counsel. As an exhibit to their intervention petition, which was filed in mid-May, the House leaders submitted preliminary objections showing that the plaintiffs' petitions should be dismissed. The House leaders also submitted responses in opposition to the plaintiffs' emergency motions for preliminary injunction.
After extensive briefing and oral argument, the Holland & Knight team helped persuade both the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania to deny the plaintiffs' emergency motions for preliminary injunction in decisions issued on May 15, May 28 and June 1, 2020. In light of the fast timing of these cases, these denials were significant client victories.
Next, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania dismissed one of the lawsuits in totality, leading one of the putative plaintiffs to refile an almost identical case under the guise of a different set of plaintiffs. After additional briefing from the Holland & Knight team, the second set of plaintiffs saw their case was unlikely to succeed and elected to voluntarily dismiss it. Of the three cases that were filed, only one case is still pending – and the plaintiffs in that case have amended their petition to address the deficiencies raised by Holland & Knight's briefing.
The Pennsylvania House regarded Holland & Knight's advocacy as key to delivering a complete victory.