Minnesota appeals court rules Mille Lacs County judge can’t stop felons from voting
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a Mille Lacs County judge overstepped his authority when he sought to bar felons from voting.
Mille Lacs County District Judge Matthew Quinn issued post-sentencing orders in at least two cases stating that the defendants, who had been convicted of felonies but were sentenced to probation, were ineligible to vote. He also argued the newly passed Restore the Vote Act, which allows felons to vote if they are not currently incarcerated, goes against the state Constitution.
Attorney General Keith Ellison and Secretary of State Steve Simon joined in denouncing Quinn’s rulings, saying they “fly in the face” of state law.
April Weyaus, the public defender representing the defendants, requested two writs of prohibition from the Minnesota Court of Appeals to block Quinn from enforcing his orders. Court records show Ellison’s office successfully intervened in expediting the case.
Outside groups submitted dueling amicus briefs on either side of the issue. The Minnesota Voters Alliance, which sued to challenge the Restore the Vote Act earlier this year, argued Quinn’s ruling should be upheld, while the American Civil Liberties Union joined with Weyaus and the attorney general in support of a writ of prohibition.
The Court of Appeals ruled in Weyaus’ favor, agreeing with her argument that Quinn “violated the principle of party presentation” when he brought up the issue of his own accord and outside of a hearing, rather than letting parties raise the matter in the courtroom.
“Petitioners and the attorney general argue that the district court exceeded its lawful authority by independently raising and deciding an issue involving the constitutionality of a statute without the issue being raised by a party and without giving the parties notice and an opportunity to be heard,” Chief Judge Susan Segal wrote.
The Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office did not participate in the case, and Quinn did not file a response to Weyaus’ petition.
Ellison said in a release that “Restore the Vote remains the law of the land.”
“Today’s decision is a victory for our democracy and our entire judicial system,” Ellison wrote in a statement. “This incident serves as a reminder that the right to vote is precious and often hard-won. I encourage all eligible Minnesotans, particularly those who were formerly incarcerated, to register to vote and vote in our upcoming elections.”
An appeal on Thursday’s ruling could still be brought to the Minnesota Supreme Court within 30 days.