This morning, the Kentucky Supreme Court will hear oral arguments related to Marsy’s Law, which amends the Kentucky Constitution to include a list of crime victims’ rights. 63% of Kentucky voters voted in favor of Marsy’s Law last fall. The bill passed 34-1 in the Senate and 87-3 in the House. The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the ballot language explaining Marsy’s Law to voters was sufficiently clear.
Sections 256 and 257 of the Kentucky Constitution provide for the method of amending the Constitution. Section 257 requires the Secretary of State to publish a proposed amendment at least 90 days before an election “in such manner as the General Assembly may provide.” The General Assembly, through KRS 118.415, has provided that a proposed amendment shall be formed as a question “in a manner calculated to inform the electorate of the substance of the amendment.”
The question on the ballot last November asked: “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?”
The Franklin Circuit Court ruled that this question did not sufficiently inform voters of the substance of the amendment. The amendment contains 10 specifically enumerated rights, some of which are arguably at friction with the constitutional rights given an accused. The court explained that the ballot question was phrased to ask generic questions that, frankly, nearly everyone agrees with (e.g., treating a crime victim with respect and dignity). Meanwhile, the 10 actual rights given to crime victims were not included in the question. Therefore, according to the court, voters were not sufficiently informed of what they were considering. This is the question the Supreme Court is now tasked to answer.
A ruling will likely be issued in March or April, which is quicker than normal, due to the important nature of the case.