Cecil attorney John Smith said Thursday that 99 out of 100 municipalities in Pennsylvania might not have realized it, but despite a Commonwealth Court ruling that struck down portions of Act 13—the state’s new Marcellus Shale law—as unconstitutional July 26, the provisions were still technically in effect the next day.
That’s because of a caveat in state law dictating that the decisions of a lower court in which the state is a defendant are stayed until an appeal is hashed out.
That’s why Smith said he travelled to Harrisburg to argue that the Commonwealth Court reinstate its order—telling the judge that it would cause “chaos” at the municipal level and give officials a no-win scenario if the law was in litigation limbo.
Judge Robert Pelligrini agreed with Smith: That leaving officials with the choice of either adopting a law that was deemed unconstitutional by the court or violating Act 13 and possibly losing out on local impact fee money wasn’t much of a choice at all.
And despite argument that reinstating the ruling would cost jobs in the industry, the judge said, “Jobs don’t justify violating the constitution,” according to Smith—who represented a cluster of communities (including Cecil and Peters), a nonprofit and medical doctor who challenged the law.
Pelligrini then ruled from the bench to reinstate his order—deeming the zoning portions of Act 13 unconstitutional until the appeal is heard and adjudicated.
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, a group that represents 1,400 municipalities, also entered a brief into court supporting the municipalities' request to have the lower ruling stand.
Editor's Note: Read an Act 13 update from PSATS by clicking the attached PDF.