A Mille Lacs County district judge recently ruled that the state’s Restore the Vote law is unconstitutional. The law was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor earlier this year, making 55,000 Minnesotans on felony probation or supervision eligible to vote.
David McKinney, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, had this reaction:
“Based on what we have learned about this situation, the judge’s ruling is procedurally unprecedented. Courts are constitutionally bound to provide due process to parties, which includes an opportunity to be heard by an unbiased decision maker; to decide actual cases and controversies; and to refrain from issuing advisory opinions or deciding cases merely to create precedent. This judge’s ruling seems to clearly go beyond these guardrails.
“Our understanding is that this judge took it upon himself during routine criminal sentencings to decide the issue of the constitutionality of a statute of his own accord. The issue was not raised by any party or attorney in the cases before the judge, nor was anyone given notice that he was even considering this issue, let alone the opportunity to provide briefing or oral argument. The judge produced this opinion out of thin air. Given the judge’s prior public reprimand by the Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards for improper public partisanship, it is difficult not to wonder whether judicial activism is afoot.
“During these sentencings, the judge already has directly barred two people from voting and even registering to vote while on probation. Moving forward, this judge’s actions will likely be especially harmful to Indigenous people who are a sizeable part of the population in Mille Lacs County and have long faced disparities and inequalities in our criminal legal system.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our constitutional democracy and unequivocally recognized as a foundational and fundamental right. The ACLU of Minnesota will work feverishly to get this judge’s ruling overturned and ensure that Minnesotans who worked so long and so hard for this right won’t lose their vote and their voice in their own futures.”