Minnesota Supreme Court grants quick review of voting rights law case

Hands hold red "I voted" stickers
An election official hands out “I Voted” stickers to voters at the St. Joan of Arc Community Center.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023

The Minnesota Supreme Court has granted a quicker appeal of a case involving a voting rights restoration law.

In an order issued Tuesday by Chief Justice Natalie Hudson, the court said it would decide the fate of the law. It permits people with felony convictions to vote as long as they’re not behind bars. Justices scheduled oral arguments for April 1.

A conservative group known as the Minnesota Voters Alliance sued over the law’s 2023 enactment, saying the Legislature overstepped its authority. Late last year, a judge ruled against the challenge that could affect eligibility for tens of thousands of voters.

The alliance asked to skip straight to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals.

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In its petition, the group’s attorney said the case needs final resolution by Minnesota’s highest court soon.

An attorney speaks at a podium to the judges.
Minnesota Supreme Court listen to a case in St. Paul.
Glen Stubbe | Pool via Star Tribune 2023

That attorney, James Dickey, wrote, “the 2024 election looms on the horizon, in less than a year. Early voting for the state primaries will begin on June 28, 2024. Early voting for the general election will begin September 20, 2024. It is imperative that this Court review this case now so that Minnesotans have complete clarity over voter eligibility by the time those elections arrive.”

Prior to the law change, which went into effect last June, people with felony convictions had to complete all aspects of their sentence to regain voting rights. That includes any supervised release or probation.

Craig Coleman, an attorney who represents people affected by the law change, has helped defend the law on behalf of them and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. In a brief filed last week, Coleman also said it’s important that the matter is decided soon.

“Any doubt cast on the right of tens of thousands of Minnesotans to register and vote in a presidential election year presents an important legal question with statewide impact,” Coleman write, calling the law “beyond serious question” and properly implemented.

“But the issue should be resolved posthaste should the court have any doubts or believes it appropriate to expeditiously put an end to the chilling effect that ongoing litigation has on impacted Minnesotans,” Coleman wrote.