This case affirms the need for transparent and accountable government in Minnesota. 

Case Update

On April 18, 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature did not violate the single-subject clause when it stuck into an omnibus bill a provision stripping the State Auditor’s office of substantial duties and funding. 

Case Background

In February 2016 Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto sued Wright, Becker, and Ramsey counties, challenging a Minnesota statute passed in violation of the “single-subject clause” of the Minnesota Constitution.  The statute purports to allow counties to retain privately-owned, for-profit accounting firms to conduct audit of their finances instead of using the Statute Auditor’s office to do so. 

The Minnesota Constitution imposes this rule on the Legislature:  “No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title.”  About 40 other states have similar rules.  Enforcing such a rule accomplishes three goals:  preventing legislative mischief that results from bills being loaded up with unrelated provisions to force legislators to vote for provisions they don’t want; preserving a meaningful role for the governor’s veto (Minnesota governors can veto individual budget items in bills, but not policy provisions); and preventing voter confusion and deception. In short, the single-subject rule promotes transparency and good government.

Upholding the single-subject rule is necessary to ensure that members of the Minnesota legislature are transparent in their deliberations and voting. The practice of combining unrelated issues in a single piece of legislation obscures how legislators are voting on specific issues, making it challenging for Minnesota residents to hold them accountable. The continued ambiguity and inconsistency surrounding the single-subject rule only serves to further the interests of state politicians at the expense of the knowledge and power of Minnesotans.

The ACLU-MN agreed with plaintiff that a single-subject rule was violated in this case, and filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting her in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals ruled that the statute did not violate the Single-Subject Clause, and the case is now headed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The ACLU-MN asserts that a more robust policy should be adopted to determine if legislation complies with the Single-Subject Clause—including adopting a clear standard that can be consistently used by the Courts. Noncompliance with the Single-Subject Clause will continue to undermine the democratic process and further disenfranchise Minnesotans and alienate them from the political process. 

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Maslon LLP

Date filed

November 21, 2016


Minnesota Supreme Court



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