Kentucky voters to decide constitutional amendment changing the terms and requirements for certain judicial offices

On the last day of its legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly certified the Terms of Judicial Offices Amendment for the November ballot. The amendment would make the following changes to the Kentucky Constitution:

  • increase the terms of circuit court clerks and commonwealth’s attorneys from six years to eight years starting in 2030;
  • increase the terms of county attorneys and district judges from four years to eight years starting in 2022; and
  • change attorney licensing requirements for district attorneys from two years to eight years beginning in 2022.

The amendment was sponsored by Republican Representatives Jason Nemes, Derek Lewis, C. Ed Massey, and House Speaker David Osborne. It was approved by the Kentucky House of Representatives on March 18, 2020, in a vote of 76-7 with 17 not voting. After suspending its legislative session for a week due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kentucky Senate reconvened and approved the amendment in a vote of 25-7, with six not voting, before the legislature adjourned on April 15.

The legislature referred to the November ballot one other amendment—the Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment. The amendment would add to the Kentucky Constitution specific rights for crime victims, together known as Marsy’s Law. Kentucky voters approved a Marsy’s Law amendment in 2018 with 63 percent of the vote, but it was overturned in KACDL v. Grimes and Board of Elections. Marsy’s Law amendments have received voter approval in 13 other states.

The Kentucky State Legislature can refer statewide ballot measures, in the form of constitutional amendments, to the general election ballot in even-numbered years. Kentucky requires a 60 percent vote in each legislative chamber during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot. That amounts to a minimum of 60 votes in the Kentucky House of Representatives and 23 votes in the Kentucky State Senate, assuming no vacancies. Amendments do not require the governor’s signature to be referred to the ballot.

In Kentucky, citizens do not have the power to initiate statewide initiatives or referendums, which means Kentucky’s ballot measures are finalized for 2020.

From 1995 to 2018, 10 measures appeared on statewide ballots in Kentucky. Nine were approved, and one was defeated.

Additional reading:
Kentucky Marsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights Amendment (2020)
Kentucky Terms of Judicial Offices Amendment (2020)