HELENA, Mont. - The ACLU of Montana, working with the Montana Association of Counties, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, and the Montana County Attorneys Association, prevailed yesterday in their lawsuit about the effective date of CI-116, also known as Marsy's Law. In a 5-0 ruling, issued just 32 days after the case was filed, the Court held that the Attorney General's ballot statement indicating the amendment would be effective on approval conflicted with the plain language of the Montana Consitution, Article XIV, Section 9(3). Jim Taylor, the Legal Director for the ACLU of Montana said, "We were glad to work with the other plaintiffs in this action, and appreciate the perspective and experience they brought to the litigation. We are gratified that the Court understood the importance of the issue and acted as swiftly as it did."
The Court agreed with the Plaintiff's view that the words "self-executing" in the ballot initiative did not establish an effective date as required by the Consitution. "We are left with the plain fact that the text of the CI-116 does not explicitly set forth a date on which the constitutional amendment becomes part of the Montana Contitution, if approved. We conclude that the 'self-executing' language of CI-116 does not overcome the explicit constitutional rule that amendements to the Montana Constitution become part of the Constitution effective the first day of July following their approval unless the amendment provides otherwise."
The ACLU, MCAA, MLCT, and MACo filed the suit directly in the Montana Supreme Court on December 2, 2016, challenging the effective date of the amendment. Marsy's Law mandates a dramatic reinterpretation of how the criminal justice system in Montana functions. Among other issues, it defines the victim of a crime expansively. Besides the actual victim that suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime, the term "victim" includes the spouses, parents, grandparents, children, siblings, grandchildren, or guardians of the victim, and any person with a relationship to the victim that is "substantially similar."
Marsy's Law creates significant administrative, financial, and compliance burdens for state and local governments. A July 1, 2017 effective date is not only legally required, but makes practical sense as it allows for organizations time to comply with the procedures mandated by CI-116. According the ACLU of Montana's Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann, "Victims deserve to be protected and consulted during criminal proceedings, but we need to ensure that these protections are available to all victims regardless of means and that they do not impinge on defendants' federal and state constitutional rights. The Court's affirmation of the July 1 effective date will give the city and county agencies an opportunity to prepare for the law going into effect and for the ACLU and other groups to consider additional potential challenges to the amendment."