The Minnesota Court of Appeals this week became the second court in two years to reject a lawsuit seeking to restore voting rights to Minnesotans who are on felony probation sentences.
The suit was first filed against Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon in 2019 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota on behalf of four Minnesotans serving long felony probation terms. It placed Simon, a vocal proponent of restoring voting rights to all non-incarcerated felons, in the awkward position of defending the constitutionality of a law he wants changed.
But in an interview Tuesday, Simon said that the Legislature, not the courts, should be the venue for restoring such rights.
“As a person, as an advocate, I strongly favor restoring the right to vote to those who have left prison behind,” Simon said. “I’ve never made any secret of that, and I think Minnesota is happily moving in that direction.”
David McKinney, a staff attorney for the ACLU in Minnesota, said Tuesday that the ACLU would “keep fighting” and appeal this week’s ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“Felony disenfranchisement is one of the enduring and systemic racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” said McKinney. “Depriving people of their right to vote further entrenches these disparities.”
DFL lawmakers have sought unsuccessfully for years to pass legislation that would immediately return the right to vote to Minnesotans released from prison. One of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Simon, Jennifer Schroeder, became a prominent face in the push for such legislation in 2019 when she shared her story of being unable to vote until 2053 when her 40-year probation term is scheduled to end.
Schroeder is joined by Elizer Darris, Christopher Jecevicus-Varner and Tierre Caldwell, all of whom cannot vote until the end of their own lengthy terms — including a 20-year sentence for Jecevicus-Varner.
The plaintiffs sued Simon in his official capacity as secretary of state, arguing that the prohibition on felon voting is an unconstitutional deprivation “of their fundamental constitutional right to participation in the democratic process.” The plaintiffs argued that the state law violates right-to-vote provisions and equal-protection principles in the Minnesota Constitution as well as violating the Constitution’s due-process clause.
They sought a court declaration that the statute was unconstitutional and that felons may regain their voting rights upon “being released or excused from incarceration.” A Ramsey County judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for such a declaration last year, which a three-judge Court of Appeals panel upheld Monday.
Writing for the panel that heard the case, Judge Matthew Johnson concluded that the state Constitution provided no language requiring the automatic restoration of civil rights once someone is released from jail or prison. Johnson added that the Constitution’s language instead left it up to the executive or legislative branches to determine how felons’ civil rights would be restored.
“Appellants have not identified any law from the territorial era or the early years of statehood under which felons’ civil rights were restored automatically upon release from incarceration,” Johnson wrote.
Support for expanding voting rights for felons on probation or supervised release is broader in the DFL-led House than it is in the Senate, where Republicans in the majority have been more skeptical about its prospects of reducing recidivism.
Yet Simon said Tuesday that he believed “forward progress” had been made on the proposal in Minnesota as well as nationwide. But with competing voting law proposals stalled as the Legislature works to pass a new two-year budget, Simon concedes that this year may again leave proponents of the felony probation voting rights bill disappointed.
“I’m encouraged that ultimately Minnesota can and will get there, get to that outcome,” Simon said. “But there’s no question that there’s an impasse now from the standpoint of the leadership of the various caucuses, and so that impasse makes imminent action unlikely.”
(c)2021 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.
They seem to have selective vision when it comes to problems.
The left, always has had selective vision.
When the children of darkness overwhelm in numbers the children of light, only the darkness can prevail. When the inmates run the assylum, there soon become no place for safety or assylum from THEM. Only a party run by criminals and people of criminal intent would propose empowering convicted felons, let alone run them for office, mostly those yet to be found out but actively committing the crimes. Getting elected is their current socailly acceptable “Get out of Jail Fee” card.,,,Just ask Joe who now sits at the top of the criminal political food chain who will devour American wealth like a hyena a dead corpse, or a vulture a pile a cow afterbirth.
This is what the Democrats, liberals, and now the leftist radicals have been doing for years, using the courts to effect their agenda though fiar rather than legislatively through elected officials who represent the people. This is why the court packing has become such a strategic item in their agenda; if they can’t get the votes in the Congress or legislatures they will merely have the courts ‘rule’ it into law.
So true.. I remember when after a THIRD STRAIGHT no vote, in Ca, the ‘lets legalize gay marriage’ crowd SUED AND TOOK IT to court, to get the will of the people overturned…
“Simon, a vocal proponent of restoring voting rights to all non-incarcerated felons, in the awkward position of defending the constitutionality of a law he wants changed”. Secretary of State Steve Simon, Simon says, I am sick and tired of you Democrats wanting more rights for criminals than law abiding citizens. You want the law changed so these low life felons will vote for you. The party of felons, the Democrat Marxist party.
To me, since crooks have such a HIGH recidivism rate, i say GIVE THEM FIVE YEARS of being required to ‘keep a clean sheet’, AFTER THEY ARE FULLY DONE with jail and probation time/parole time.. ONLY THEN CAN THEY try to sue to get their voting rights back..
IF THEY BUGGER UP while on that ‘clean sheet time’, and go back to jail, THEY GET ONE AND ONLY ONE MORE CHANCE, but now its after a 10 year clean sheet period, after parole/jail time is done..
IF THEY BUGGER UP a third time… THEIR VOTE IS GONE FOR GOOD>