Take a stand against fatally flawed Marsy’s Law

The constitutional referendum is on Wisconsin's April 7 ballot

Plaintiffs file a lawsuit against Marsy's Law constitutional amendment being on the April 2020 ballot as worded. 12/19/19 on left, Craig Johnson and Matt Rothschild, Jerome Buting speaking.
Plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against the vaguely worded Marsy's Law constitutional amendment to try to keep it off the April 2020 ballot. Speaking at a Dec. 19, 2019 press conference, on the left: Craig Johnson, Matt Rothschild, Jerome Buting (speaking). On the right: Jacqueline Boynton and Dennis Grzezinski. (Photo by Melanie Conklin)

When you go into the voting booth in Wisconsin on April 7, you’ll see a referendum question about whether you want to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to give crime victims additional rights. Now while that might sound good, this amendment, which goes by the name Marsy’s Law, is fatally flawed.

First of all, it would collide with the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.” 

Marsy’s Law says the opposite: Victims shall be entitled “to refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request made by the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused.”

This would take away the ability of the accused to adequately defend themselves — a key pillar of our Bill of Rights and our system of jurisprudence.

Amending the Wisconsin Constitution this way will cost Wisconsin taxpayers a lot of money in the legal challenges that will arise from it.

Another problem with this amendment is that all sorts — including police officers and corporations — might claim to be victims and then get handed a basket of special rights.

For instance, police officers in South Dakota, North Dakota and Florida have invoked their rights under Marsy’s Law to prevent their names from being released, and some of those cops had shot people.

And in North Dakota, a big corporation — Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota — claimed to be a victim under Marsy’s Law. One of its insured people had gotten into a fight and incurred $30,0000 in medical expenses. Blue Cross Blue Shield said that it was a victim, too, and under Marsy’s Law, all victims deserve full restitution, so it demanded $30,000 from the guy who injured their policy holder. And the North Dakota Supreme Court agreed with that.

Finally, I oppose Marsy’s Law because an out-of-state billionaire should not be able to buy an amendment to our state constitution.

Henry Nicholas at a 2004 event in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Mary’s Law for All was launched by Henry Nicholas, the billionaire co-founder of Broadcom. Across the country, the group has spent about $102 million in the 12 states where Marsy’s law ballot measures were approved between 2008 and 2018, according to Ballotpedia. Nicholas shelled out about $99 million of those contributions.

Here in Wisconsin, Nicholas’s group has given $537,000 in loans to the political action committee of Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin. And Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin has spent more than $1.5 million in lobbying in the last two legislative sessions, making it the third biggest lobbyist in the entire state.

Constitutional amendments in Wisconsin must pass two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and then be approved by voters in a referendum. The lobbying by Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin has paid off, as it has already passed those two consecutive sessions. If voters approve of the referendum on April 7, we’ll wake up on April 8 with this new — and deeply defective — amendment to our state constitution.

Your vote on April 7 on this so-called victims’ rights amendment will determine if that happens.