By Margo Kirchner
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals said Tuesday the State Supreme Court should decide the fate of the victims’ rights constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law that voters approved last year.
A District III Court of Appeals panel on Tuesday certified the appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court because Wisconsin Justice Initiative’s challenge to the amendment involves “significant questions,” the answers to which “will have a sweeping effect on our criminal justice institutions and those operating within them.”
WJI, three individual voters, and Sen. Fred Risser successfully challenged the wording of the ballot question presented to voters for amendment approval. Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ruled in November 2019 that the question failed to fully and fairly inform the public of the essential components of the amendment, misstated the contents and impact of the amendment, and improperly encompassed more than one subject. He stayed his ruling pending appeal, which allowed the question to appear on the ballot.
Marsy’s Law, WJI President Craig Johnson said Tuesday, “runs the risk of negatively affecting the constitutional rights of the accused in a way that the original proponents always denied was their intention. Yet that's the stark reality, and voters were never informed about this. The ballot question did not explain the issue fully and fairly, and left people to vote in the dark."
Johnson also is an individual plaintiff in the case.
The Supreme Court now must choose whether to decide the appeal itself (skipping the Court of Appeals) or tell District III to consider the matter first.
The District III panel judges were Lisa K. Stark, Thomas M. Hruz, and Jennifer E. Nashold, who usually occupies a seat on the District IV appeals court. Tuesday’s 20-page explanation of the certification was issued without an identified author.
The appeals court said that certification would speed up the important final decision. It would be in the best interests of those involved in the criminal justice system and Wisconsin voters generally “to have a timely and final decision on the sufficiency of the ballot question producing the amendment to our state constitution,” the court wrote.
The appeal has been fully briefed before District III since early April 2021.
Attorney General Josh Kaul appealed the trial court’s judgment on behalf of himself, the Wisconsin Elections Commission and its chair, and Secretary of State Douglas LaFollette. The defendants chose to venue the appeal in District III.
Dennis Grzezinski, lawyer for the plaintiffs, noted the court of appeals’ summary of WJI’s arguments that the ballot question was misleading and legally insufficient, “which led the Circuit Court to rule that the proposed amendments to the Wisconsin Constitution were not validly ratified.”
“We look forward to having the Wisconsin Supreme Court address these issues,” said Grzezinski.
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