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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Supreme Court Declares 'Marsy's Law' Unconstitutional

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The Montana Supreme Court Wednesday dealt a major blow to a measure that supporters say would have increased the rights of crime victims.

Montana voters passed "Marsy's Law" last November by a 66 percent majority. Wednesday, the state's high court declared it unconstitutional.

"Today's ruling is not just a victory for the plaintiffs and for the people of Montana, but also for the sanctity of the Montana constitution itself."

That's Alex Rate, the Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.

Last June the Montana ACLU, the Montana Association of Counties and Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sued to stop Marsy's Law from ever going into effect.

It would have amended the state constitution to expand the privacy rights of crime victims and their families as well as allowed them to participate in judicial proceedings, among other provisions. And that, said a majority of Montana Supreme Court Justices, was the problem; Marsy's law made multiple changes to the state constitution, when they should have instead been considered separately.

ACLU's Alex Rate says voters were not properly presented with what he says were the unintended consequences of Marsy’s Law.

"What the court noted is that Montana voters don't have the same opportunity to consider and debate a proposition the same way you would if this was submitted as a legislative referendum, which is why our founders and the constitutional convention deleg  ates included Article XIV which provide that if there's an amendment that amends multiple sections of the constitution it has to be submitted on a separate vote."

"Marsy's Law for Montana" state director, Chuck Denowh, says the Montana Supreme Court's ruling strips crime victims of their right to be on equal footing with their offenders in the judicial system.

"None of the provisions of Marsy’s Law were unconstitutional, it was the ballot initiative process that they looked at," says Denowh. "I’m still digesting the opinion. It certainly is disappointing."

Denowh says "Marsy’s Law for Montana" will continue to advocate for the rights of Montana crime victims.

The two dissenting state Supreme Court Justices, Jim Rice and Beth Baker, said the law is not ready for review because it has not yet been implemented and therefore its impacts are unknown.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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