The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously invalidated a constitutional amendment known as “Marsy’s law” that granted specific constitutional rights to victims of crimes.
The court considered whether voters had been given sufficient information about the amendment when they voted to approve it by 63 percent in 2018. Rather than the full text of the amendment, the ballot included the question: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and to have a voice in the judicial process?”
Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers brought suit, arguing that this brief summary alone did not allow voters to make an informed decision about the amendment. The court agreed and held that Kentucky’s Constitution requires a proposed amendment to be published and submitted to voters in its entirety.
The court focused its analysis on the text of the constitution:
The meaning of the phrase “such proposed amendment or amendments shall be submitted to the voters” is plain and its direction is clear: the amendment is to be presented to the people for a vote. … [W]e acknowledge that it is possible to interpret the phrase “submit” as something other than presentation of the thing itself to the people. But such an interpretation would go against the word’s ordinary meaning and is contrary to the idea, repeated throughout the Constitutional Debates, that the modification of our organic document requires a meaningful, thoughtful opportunity for the voters to know what they are voting on—one that is separate and apart from the legislature’s. We simply cannot read this section to allow anything less.
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield expressed his hopes that the General Assembly will again put the amendment before Kentucky’s electorate during the 2020 election.