Kentucky Supreme Court invalidates 2018 Marsy’s Law amendment
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last week that the description presented to voters for the state’s 2018 Marsy’s Law initiative violated the state constitution. As a result, the measure—which was approved by 63% of voters—can not be added to the Kentucky Constitution.
Marsy’s Law describes a set of constitutional protections for crime victims that have been approved by voters in 12 states. In Montana, where voters approved Marsy’s Law in 2016, a court struck down the constitutional amendment as violating the state’s separate-vote requirement for initiated amendments.
Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion, “Section 256 of the Kentucky Constitution requires the General Assembly to submit the full text of a proposed constitutional amendment to the electorate for a vote.” The full text of Marsy’s Law was 555 words long—517 words longer than the description that state legislators wrote that appeared on the ballot.
The ruling affirms a lower court’s ruling from October 2018, which prohibited the state from certifying the election results for the measure. The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (KACFL) filed the original lawsuit to invalidate the Marsy’s Law initiative in August 2018.
Marsy’s Law for Kentucky, a group that registered as a political issues committee to support Marsy’s Law, said in a statement about the ruling, “We look forward to working with the General Assembly again to put Marsy’s Law back on the ballot for Kentucky voters in 2020 in a form that will pass legal muster as defined by the court.” Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R), chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said that he would like the legislature to present the amendment to voters again in 2020.
Henry Nicholas, whose sister Marsy was murdered in 1983, successfully advocated for the first Marsy’s Law initiative in California in 2008. These provisions have since been approved by voters in 11 other states, with six of those—Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—occurring in 2018. Nicholas provided over $5 million to support the campaign in Kentucky.
As I discussed last month, a Marsy’s Law initiative will be decided by Wisconsin voters in 2020. The Pennsylvania Legislature approved a Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment yesterday that will be on the ballot in 2019.