Wisconsin’s April 7th Marsy’s Law ballot measure challenged in court

On December 18, 2019, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization, filed litigation in the Dane County Circuit Court that challenges the Marsy’s Law Amendment, which is on the ballot for April 7, 2020. Marsy’s Law was designed as a type of constitutional bill of rights for crime victims.

As of 2019, 13 states had passed ballot measures for Marsy’s Law. Courts have struck down Marsy’s Law in Montana and Kentucky. In Montana, the constitutional amendment was struck down as violating the state’s single-subject and separate-vote requirements. In Kentucky, a judge ruled that the ballot question didn’t fully and fairly inform the electorate. In Pennsylvania, where a majority of electors voted for Marsy’s Law on November 5, 2019, an ongoing lawsuit contends that the constitutional amendment violated the state’s single-subject requirement.

Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., established Marsy’s Law for All in 2009 to advocate for constitutional amendments. In Wisconsin, the state legislature passed Marsy’s Law in 2017 and 2019 to place the amendment on the ballot. In 2019, most legislative Republicans (77 of 82) supported the resolution placing Marsy’s Law on the ballot. Two-thirds of legislative Democrats (32 of 50) supported the resolution.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit stated that the ballot question did not accurately and completely describe the constitutional amendment. Craig Johnson, board president of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, said, “Voters are being asked to vote on a single sentence that doesn’t remotely begin to describe what Marsy’s Law is and what it does. It may sound reasonable, but the question masks a proposed amendment twice the length of the U.S. Bill of Rights.” The Wisconsin Justice Initiative asked the court to strike Marsy’s Law from the ballot or require the ballot question to be rewritten.

The ballot question is: “Shall section 9m of article I of the constitution, which gives certain rights to crime victims, be amended to give crime victims additional rights, to require that the rights of crime victims be protected with equal force to the protections afforded the accused while leaving the federal constitutional rights of the accused intact, and to allow crime victims to enforce their rights in court?”

Teri Jendusa-Nicolai, chairperson of Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, responded to the lawsuit, saying, “This to me is a last-ditch effort to take away the rights of crime victims.” Jendusa-Nicolai added, “I do believe in the intelligence of the voters of Wisconsin, that they do understand what they are getting into and what they are voting for. … This has passed (the) Legislature twice. It has gone through many rigorous hearings, many rewordings and revisions, something that’s been worked on for quite some time.”

The case could eventually be appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which would have final jurisdiction.

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Additional reading:
Marsy’s Law crime victim rights
Marsy’s Law for All
Wisconsin 2020 ballot measures
2020 ballot measures