Minnesota Supreme Court Scheduled to Review Case on Voting Rights for Felons

Minnesota Supreme Court (Credits: Minnesota Reformer)

The Minnesota Supreme Court is poised to decide whether felons on supervised release should have their voting rights restored. The case is set for oral arguments on Monday.

This legal battle was sparked by a challenge from a conservative group to a new law signed by Governor Tim Walz last year. The legislation aimed to re-enfranchise approximately 55,000 Minnesotans who, despite being released from incarceration, are still under probation.

This legislative move marked the culmination of years of efforts and followed a setback in court for the American Civil Liberties Union, which had previously sought to overturn the existing restrictions through legal action.

Minnesota Supreme Court (Credits: MPR News)

When the Supreme Court indicated the matter fell within the legislature’s purview following the ACLU’s unsuccessful lawsuit, lawmakers acted swiftly to change the law.

However, the new law’s enactment was quickly met with opposition from the Minnesota Voters Alliance, a conservative legal group. They filed a lawsuit in Anoka County, arguing that the state constitution requires individuals to complete their entire sentence, including probation before their civil rights and, consequently, voting rights can be restored.

An Anoka County judge dismissed this challenge in December 2023, stating that the Minnesota Voters Alliance lacked the standing to sue. Undeterred, the group appealed the decision, prompting the state Supreme Court to expedite the case.

The context of this legal dispute is situated within a broader national conversation about voting rights for individuals with felony convictions. Currently, 23 states reinstate voting rights to felons immediately upon their release from incarceration, with Maine, Vermont, and Washington D.C. even allowing those incarcerated to vote.

Minnesota Senate (Credits: AP News)

Before the new law, Minnesota was among the 16 states requiring felons to complete their sentences, including probation, before regaining their voting rights.

This ongoing legal battle in Minnesota is not isolated. In another notable instance, a Mille Lacs County judge diverged from the new law, ruling in his courtroom that felons could not vote as part of their sentencing, claiming the law was unconstitutional.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals later countered this decision, stating that the judge did not possess the authority to issue such a ruling. The upcoming Supreme Court decision will not only determine the immediate fate of thousands of Minnesotans.

Still, it will also resonate through the legal and political world, potentially setting a precedent for how voting rights for felons are approached nationwide.