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Marsy’s Law supporters ask Kentucky Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on vague ballot wording

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Supporters of Marsy’s Law are asking the Kentucky Supreme Court to reconsider a decision last month that found the ballot wording too vague.

The measure was approved as Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, during the 2018 General Assembly, passing the Senate 34-1, and the House, 87-3, allowing it to be placed on the November 2018 ballot.

Whitney Westerfield

While the bill’s language was nearly two pages long, the ballot language was, “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?”

A lawsuit was filed at Franklin Circuit Court in August, by the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense lawyers, seeking a declaration that the ballot question failed to inform the voters adequately of the substance of the amendment in violation of Kentucky’s statutory and constitutional requirements. 

They also sought, in the alternative, injunctive relief that would prevent Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes from certifying the ballot question to the county clerks or would direct her to rescind her certification if made.

A month before the election, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the ballot question did not adequately state the substance of the amendment and thereby violated the requirement of state law, that the question be “in a manner calculated to inform the electorate of the substance of the amendment.”

Wingate allowed the question to appear on the ballot during the November 6, 2018 election but prevented Grimes from certifying the ballots cast for or against the proposed amendment.

The proposal was approved with nearly 63 percent of the vote. 

Westerfield and supporters of the proposed Marsy’s Law, appealed the ruling, the defense lawyers group filed a cross-appeal, and the high court agreed to transfer the case directly to them.

In a 23-page ruling authored by Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr., and handed down in June, the Justices unanimously upheld the lower court ruling.

In their petition for re-hearing, Westerfield says the high court’s insistence that the full language of proposed constitutional amendments be included on the ballot, “Threatens to place enormous, costly new burdens on election officials, which could make it functionally impossible to adopt amendments of any meaningful length or detail.”

They also seek allowing supplemental filings and oral arguments, or have the Court modify the opinion “to direct that the 2018 Marsy’s Law ballot question be placed on the 2020 ballot, with the full text of the proposed amendment available to each voter at each precinct.”

No word on when the Supreme Court will take up the request.

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