On April 7, 2020, voters in Wisconsin will vote on Marsy’s Law—a type of constitutional amendment addressing the rights of crime victims. The Wisconsin State Legislature referred the constitutional amendment to the ballot on May 15, 2019. Voters in 12 other states have approved Marsy’s Law measures. Marsy’s Law has never been defeated at the ballot. Montana’s 2018 Marsy’s Law measure, however, was overturned by a court ruling, and Kentucky’s 2018 measure is pending a court ruling.
Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., began campaigning for Marsy’s Law in 2008. His sister, Marsy Nicholas, was murdered in 1983. The first Marsy’s Law on the ballot was in California in 2008. The other states that have voted on, and approved, Marsy’s Law are Illinois (2014), Montana (2016), North Dakota (2016), South Dakota (2016), Ohio (2017), Florida (2018), Georgia (2018), Kentucky (2018), Nevada (2018), North Carolina (2018), and Oklahoma (2018). The Kentucky Marsy’s Law has not been enacted pending a court ruling. About $102.26 million was raised for the 12 Marsy’s Law constitutional amendments.
As passed by the Wisconsin State Legislature, the Marsy’s Law amendment would grant crime victims with certain rights, including a right to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, sensitivity, and fairness; a right to privacy; a right to be present at all criminal proceedings and hearings; a right to confer with the government prosecutor; and a right to restitution and compensation. Currently, the state constitution grants crime victims with some of these rights, such as a right to restitution.
In Wisconsin, the state legislature is required to approve an amendment by majority vote in two successive sessions for the amendment to appear on the ballot. The amendment was first approved during the 2017 legislative session. In 2019, the state Senate voted 27-5 to pass the amendment, and the state House voted 82-15 to pass the amendment. Most Republicans (94 percent) voted to refer Marsy’s Law to the ballot, while 64 percent of Democrats voted for the amendment. As Marsy’s Law was the only constitutional amendment voted on during the 2017-2018 legislative session, it is the only constitutional amendment that can appear on the Wisconsin ballot in 2020.
The organization Marsy’s Law for All advocates for Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment, stating that Marsy’s Law makes crime victims’ rights co-equal with criminal defendants’ rights in state constitutions. The ACLU of Wisconsin opposes the Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment, saying victims’ rights and defendants rights are not legally equivalent. Whereas defendants rights are rights against the state, according to the ACLU, victims’ rights are rights against an individual.