Supreme Court speeds up review of ruling on Minneapolis ballot question

A large stack of boxes sit on the sidewalk.
Boxes of peition signatures gathered by Yes 4 Minneapolis sit on the sidewalk before being delivered to the Minneapolis city clerk on April 30.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated: Sept. 15, 12:15 p.m. | Posted: Sept. 14, 5:53 p.m.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has granted a petition for accelerated review of a district court's ruling that blocks a ballot question on public safety. The court requested paperwork by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The amendment to the city’s charter would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety, which supporters say would take a more “public health” approach to safety.

A Tuesday ruling by Judge Jamie Anderson found that the language in the ballot question approved by the Minneapolis City Council didn’t allow voters to understand the essential purpose of the charter amendment, and was “unreasonable and misleading.” It was the third time the council had passed language for the ballot question that the judge blocked.

That ruling came just days before early and absentee voting begins in the city where George Floyd was killed in police custody.

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The Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, which spearheaded the pro-amendment campaign, petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court ahead of time to hear an accelerated appeal in case it lost.

In a statement, Yes 4 Minneapolis spokesperson JaNaé Bates said the citizen-driven petition, which supporters say was signed by more than 22,000 residents, is an effort to give residents a choice over how the city ensures public safety.

“Today, a handful of people with power and money leveraged their influence to undermine the people of Minneapolis in an unprecedented and heinously undemocratic act of stealing the voice and vote of the residents,” Bates said. “It follows the sad legacy of supremacy and oppression that haunts our country.” 

Yes 4 Minneapolis' Corenia Smith said the judge's decision undermines the will of city residents.

”This is a result of a coordinated effort by the political establishment, corporate developers and a handful of people with money and power, who systemically manipulated the legal system to undermine democracy and silence the voices of people they disagree with,” Smith said.

Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader said in a statement that the city is also asking for a quick decision.

“The City Attorney’s Office is focused on a speedy appellate process to ensure all voters have the opportunity to make known their positions on this critical issue as part of the municipal election this year,” Rowader said.

Attorney Joe Anthony, who represents former City Council member Don Samuels and others who argue the ballot language is too vague, said his clients want voters to weigh in on public safety.

Anthony said he’d like to see early voting moved back, which he said “would give everybody time to come up with new ballot language to put it on the ballot and let it be voted on."

The proposal that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety emerged in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer, which sparked protests, unrest and calls to reinvent policing.

The City Council updated the language last week, just hours after Anderson ordered earlier wording off the ballot because it was “vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation.”

The ballots are currently at the printer. Anderson's order allows ballots containing the question to be used, but requires election officials to add a note telling voters that results on the ballot question won’t be tabulated and prohibiting officials from counting votes.