Illinois voters approve two new amendments

By Austin Miller

Two new amendments to the Illinois Constitution were passed Tuesday with overwhelming. Both measures had more than 70 percent of votes in approval, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The first amendment will update the law of crime victim’s rights, which were passed in 1992, and make them part of the Constitution.

The amendment provides victims with protection from harassment, intimidation and abuse during trial. Victims will be allowed “to be heard at any proceeding that involves the victim’s rights, and any proceeding involving a plea agreement, release of the defendant or convicted individual, or sentencing,” according to a pamphlet issued by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

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Jennifer Brobst, assistant professor of law, said the amendment was partially based off of “Marsy’s Law” in California, which stems from the death of Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Nicholas’s mother and brother ran into the killer at a grocery store, unaware he was free on bail during the trial.

Brobst said the new amendment is somewhat insubstantial because there is no definite answer if victims or their families have the right to their own attorney during trials. Without this stipulation, no one would ensure the law is being followed. Marsy’s Law also gives victims the right to be informed if the defendant appeals his or her sentencing, while the Illinois amendment does not.

“The constitutional amendment change is positive, but is still relatively weak,” Brobst said. “It’s no Marsy’s Law, but it is a step in the right direction. It’s all well and good to have rights, but what’s the point if you can’t enforce it?”

The second amendment prevents any voting restrictions based on gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Under the new amendment, voters will be protected from discrimination through voter identification laws.

John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said 24 states have enacted restrictions on voting times and require specific identification to vote. Illinois does not require photo identification to vote.

Jackson said proponents of the amendment argue the voter identification laws are designed to suppress minorities from voting because they are less likely to have the necessary identification.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated nine states with discriminatory pasts had to receive approval from the federal government before enacting new voting laws, was unconstitutional.

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One of those nine states, Texas, passed new voter legislation earlier this year. In October, the Supreme Court voted to not block Texas’ new law, making the new legislation official for this week’s elections.

Texas now requires either a Texas Department of Public Safety-issued driver’s license, Texas Election Identification Certificate, concealed handgun license, military identification card with a photograph or a citizenship certificate with photograph or passport to vote, according to the votetexas.gov website.

A federal law is also in the works, titled the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The law is similar to the new Illinois amendment, which was introduced in January 2014 by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner.

Jackson said these amendments may not change Illinois in the immediate future, but will have more importance in time.

“These were an attempt to put into constitutional language what is already law,” Jackson said.

Edward Dawson, assistant professor of law, said the constitution is designed to be tough to amend. A three-fifths super-majority is required in legislature before citizens can vote on the amendment.

“The reason it’s harder is because the Constitution is higher law,” Dawson said. “It sets up the structure of government. It protects the most important rights and values, so the idea is you make it harder to amend the constitution than it is to pass a regular statute. You’re writing into the Constitution certain values that you don’t want to let even a majority overturn. “

Austin Miller can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AMiller_DE.

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