The meaning of the education clause of the PA State Constitution: A central focus at post-trial oral argument
The education clause of the 1874 Pennsylvania State Constitution, calling for "thorough and efficient" public education.

As the parties gathered in court one final time on July 26 to argue the legal issues in Pennsylvania’s historic school funding trial, we highlighted the promise spelled out in the State Constitution, which mandates that the General Assembly must provide a "thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth." 

Law Center senior attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg urged a declaration from the court that “the General Assembly shall provide all Pennsylvania students with a contemporary, high-quality, effective public education … which prepares them to be college and career ready, allows them to meet their potential, promotes democracy and citizenship, and provides Pennsylvania with a competitive, capable workforce.”

The current school funding system, leaving students in low-wealth districts without sufficient teachers, counselors, or instructional materials, is "inadequate, it's inequitable, it's illogical," Urevick-Ackelsberg said.

“The evidence is clear," Urevick-Ackelsberg said at the conclusion of our final rebuttal argument. "The Constitution has been violated.

Attorneys for the legislative respondents asked the court to take a much narrower view of what the Constitution requires. Read more about the legal debates at the heart of our case challenging Pennsylvania's school funding system in our recap on Fund Our Schools PA.

Now, we wait for a decision from Commonwealth Court, which could take several months, given the extensive record from our four-month trial. We are confident we proved our claims in court, but an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is likely from whichever side loses the case.

Oral argument was covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chalkbeat Philadelphia, WHYY, Harrisburg's CBS 21 News and other outlets across Pennsylvania.

Thank you for your support for quality public education. We will continue to share opportunities for you to make your voice heard in Harrisburg and in your community. Our leaders in Harrisburg do not have to wait for a court order to do right by public schools in low-wealth urban, suburban and rural Pennsylvania communities.
PA Supreme Court upholds Pennsylvania's mail-in voting law, Act 77, in a big win for voters.
Great news for Pennsylvania voters! On August 2, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Act 77, the 2019 state law that expanded access to mail-in voting to all Pennsylvanians, rejecting a state constitutional challenge filed by many of the same Republican state legislators who voted to enact the law.

We filed an amicus brief in support of the right to vote by mail, supporting an appeal by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from an earlier Commonwealth Court decision overturning the law. Along with ACLU-PA, we represented Pennsylvania voters who rely on mail-in voting to access the ballot box, as well as Disability Rights Pennsylvania. For our clients, the ability to vote by mail is more than a convenience. It means that NICU nurse Molly Mahon no longer has to worry about rushing across town to her polling place after a shift that ends 35 minutes before polls close. It means that Matthew Jennings, a Pennsylvanian with disabilities who faces severe mobility and communication barriers, and his mother Cindy Jennings, his sole caregiver, no longer face a serious risk of disenfranchisement due to the difficulty of traveling to the polls.

"Mail-in voting has been used by millions of Pennsylvanians for more than seventy years," Law Center legal director Mimi McKenzie said. "It is safe and secure, and for voters like our clients, it is a crucial tool for reliable access to the ballot box. We are heartened that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected this latest cynical and partisan attack on mail-in voting in the wake of the 2020 election." 

We now await a decision in yet another lawsuit challenging Act 77, filed on July 20 by some of the same legislators. Our senior attorney Ben Geffen discussed this latest challenge--based on a strained reading of a non-severability clause within the law and a recent federal court decision regarding undated ballots--with WHYY. “The motivation here may be to keep fueling the big lie, and to keep encouraging voters to believe that there is something suspect about the way elections run in Pennsylvania when there’s not,” Geffen said.
Join us for our 2022 annual celebration,
Persevering for Justice!
We are so excited to see you at our 2022 annual celebration! Join us at Vie on Broad Street in Philadelphia as we celebrate those who never give up in the fight for civil, social and economic rights at Persevering for Justice!

When: Thursday, October 27, 2022, 6-9 PM
Where: Vie, 600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia PA

Individual tickets are $150; tickets for non-profit colleagues, teachers and students are $75. Sponsorships are also available--contact Stephanie Davis for more information at or 267-546-1303.
Honoring Michael Churchill
This year, we will honor our very own Michael Churchill, who joined the Law Center in 1976 and served as co-director until 2006, with the Thaddeus Stevens Award in recognition of more than 50 years of dedication to advancing civil rights in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Since participating in Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, Mr. Churchill has helped lead efforts against housing segregation, police misconduct, employment discrimination, and more. Most recently, he helped lead our team in the school funding trial that concluded March 10.

We will also honor our pro-bono partner in our school funding trial, O’Melveny & Meyers, and our clients, six superintendents from school districts across Pennsylvania who stood up for the high quality education guaranteed in our state constitution.
Our joint statements following the settlement of our client's source of income discrimination case
In 2019, our client Tomika Anglin filed complaints against a landlord and property management company with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, alleging that she had been discriminated against because she uses a housing voucher. Ms. Anglin, the property owners and the property management company released joint statements after reaching a settlement in their case. None of the parties admitted to fault or liability. Read the full statements here.

“As housing costs increase and wages for many remain stagnant, discriminating against a tenant based on how they pay their rent is yet another barrier to securing housing,” said Ms. Anglin. “As a property management company, I appreciate Allegiance’s implementation of source of income anti-discrimination policies in their leasing practices.”
Senior Attorney Ben Geffen elected as a member of the American Law Institute
This week, our senior attorney Ben Geffen was elected as a member of the The American Law Institute, the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law. Help us congratulate Ben by liking his post on Facebook!
Remembering Marilyn Heffley
The entire Law Center community expresses its deep sadness at the untimely death of Judge Marilyn Heffley.

Judge Heffley was a treasured board member of the Law Center for nearly 15 years, serving from 1997 until 2012. She was everything a non-profit board member should be: reliable, active and generous. Those of us who had the pleasure to work with her over those years remember her unfailing warmth and good cheer. We will miss her.

We send our deepest condolences to her family, friends and loved ones and join the entire Philadelphia legal community in mourning her loss. Memorial services were held on July 27. Her obituary can be found here.
Our comments on Philadelphia's Assessment of Fair Housing
The City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) recently completed their Draft Assessment of Fair Housing for 2022. On July 28, the Law Center submitted comments on this plan, which focused on a persistent barrier to safe and affordable housing: source of income discrimination.

Our staff attorney Sari Bernstein recommends steps that the City and PHA should take to protect renters using housing choice vouchers (“Section 8” vouchers) from discrimination and increase opportunities for affordable housing. Discrimination against renters who use housing choice vouchers is currently illegal under Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance. “Given the blatant and rampant violations of Philadelphia’s source of income protection, the lack of enforcement of this vital tenant protection is unacceptable,” we write. Read our comment here.

Members of Renters United Philadelphia also submitted comments on the assessment, specifically focused on housing quality issues. RUP members named health and safety issues in housing as their top priority. They express concern that the department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I), the agency responsible for housing inspections, is mentioned nowhere within the Fair Housing Plan section of the assessment. They note that they have experienced inconsistent responses from L&I when they report housing issues, and that this is likely connected to the agency’s force of housing inspectors shrinking by one third since 2019.

RUP members recommend that the assessment include plans to address a lack of resources for housing code enforcement at L&I, and to ensure that the agency can ensure code compliance without displacing tenants. Tenants should not suffer displacement due to years of landlord neglect. “Many of us have had to live for years with shoddy repairs, pest infestations, broken elevators and non-working utilities,” they write. “As working class tenants in Philadelphia, we are used to substandard housing—but we should not have to be.” Read RUP's comment here.
Thank you summer interns!

Law student interns at one of our lunch-and-learn sessions. From left to right (seated): Krystle Salvati, Wilberto Sicard, and Erinmarie Byrnes. Below: interns, staff and family members at a June Phillies game. Starting in middle of second row from top, moving down diagonally: Ty Parks, Erinmarie Byrnes, and Krystle Salvati.

We'd like to thank our 2022 summer interns for all of their fantastic and invaluable work this summer! We hosted four law student interns this year: Erinmarie Byrnes, Rutgers Law School; Ty Parks, Penn Law School; Krystle Salvati, Penn Law School; and Wilberto Sicard; Yale Law School. Help us thank them by liking their post on LinkedIn! We also hosted one high school intern through the School District of Philadelphia's Law and Justice Mentoring Program, Daniel Le of Kensington Health Sciences Academy.