Amendment S, the crime victims bill of rights, may be unconstitutional… in Montana. The ACLU, counties, lawyers, and even a victims’ rights advocate are suing to prevent the July 1 implementation of California billionaire Henry T. Nicholas’s vanity bill, which is labeled CI-116 in Montana. The plaintiffs offer all sorts of sensible criticisms of CI-116, but their legal argument boils down to a technical point specific to Montana law:
ACLU of Montana, in the lawsuit, argues that since the initiative amended multiple sections of the Montana Constitution, it required a separate vote for each amendment. The lawsuit asks the court to void the enactment of Marsy’s Law, halt all enforcement and decertifiy its passage [Holly K. Michels, “Marsy’s Law, So-Called Victims’ Bill of Rights, Is Unconstitutional, Lawsuit Says,” Helena Independent Record, 2017.06.20].
The Montana Constitution Article 14 Section 11 says, “If more than one amendment is submitted at the same election, each shall be so prepared and distinguished that it can be voted upon separately.” CI-116 amended the Montana Constitution by adding one new section with multiple provisions. The plaintiffs contend that this new section “effectively” amends eight other sections of the Montana Constitution and affects separate definitions and rights. Neither Section 11 nor Article 14 Section 9, which provides for amendment by initiative, speaks to “effective” rather than explicit changes, and neither makes clear that a single amendment cannot effect multiple changes. Montana’s Supreme Court forcefully upheld this separate-vote rule in Marshall v. State ex rel. Cooney (1999), and the plaintiffs base their argument on this case; however, the amendment challenged and overturned in Marshall expressly referred to other provisions of the Montana Constitution.
This argument has no application in South Dakota, where voters approved an identical Nicholas initiative last November. Our Constitution Article 23 Section 1 allows a proposed amendment to “amend one or more articles and related subject matter in other articles as necessary to accomplish the objectives of the amendment.” In South Dakota, we could initiate an amendment that would strike the entire state constitution and replace it with 29 new sections… or just with one line providing “Free ice cream on Sundays!”