Minn. Supreme Court Allows Policing Measure to Stay on Ballot

Sept. 17, 2021
The court's three-page decision allows a Minneapolis ballot measure that, if passed, would overhaul the police department.

By Liz Navratil

Source Star Tribune

Minneapolis residents can vote on a key policing proposal this fall, and those votes will count, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The decision came down in a three-page order issued shortly before 6 p.m., just hours before early voting is set to begin in the first municipal races since George Floyd was killed by police.

"So as not to impair the orderly process of voting, this order is issued with an opinion to follow at a later date," wrote Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea.

Yes 4 Minneapolis, the political committee that wrote the proposal, welcomed the ruling.

"We're incredibly thrilled that the people of Minneapolis have their democracy honored," said JaNae' Bates, the group's spokesperson. "The thing that they have been fighting for, for quite frankly well over a year, that was honored. They get the right to vote honored on a really important issue this fall."

The decision reverses a ruling earlier this week from Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson, who barred elections officials from counting votes on a proposal clearing the way for officials to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new public safety agency. She ruled that city officials chose to present the question to voters in an "unreasonable and misleading" way.

The judge's order sparked speedy appeals to the state Supreme Court, which faced intense pressure to act with unusual speed. Early voting begins Friday.

Justice Margaret Chutich recused herself from the decision. Kyle Christopherson, a spokesperson for the court, said Chutich "will not be participating in the case at all" and "the reason for recusals are never revealed."

The latest rulings stemmed from a legal fight over how to present the policing ballot question to voters in a neutral way.

Don Samuels, one of three residents who brought the legal challenge that resulted in the proposal being blocked earlier this week, said he still believes the ballot question is vague. But, he added, he thinks they "achieved significant improvement" over the first version throughout the court process.

"This is certainly better than it not going on at all," said Samuels, a former City Council member.

Minneapolis officials, who urged the Supreme Court to keep the language in place, also welcomed the ruling.

"Now voters have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this ballot question," City Attorney Jim Rowader said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Yes 4 Minneapolis collected signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot. The measure changes the Minneapolis charter by removing the requirement to keep a police department with a minimum number of officers. It then requires the city to create a new agency providing "a comprehensive public health approach to safety."

Lawyers on all sides of the debate have argued vehemently over how to interpret those charter changes and how much detail to provide on the ballot.

Anderson struck down the city's ballot phrasing three times. The first was after Yes 4 Minneapolis sued. The other two times were in response to legal challenges from the three Minneapolis residents: Samuels, nonprofit CEO Sondra Samuels and businessman Bruce Dachis.

Staff writers Susan Du and Kelly Smith contributed to this report.


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