Minnesota Appeals Court Turns Back Push to Restore Felon Voting Rights

From today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The Minnesota Court of Appeals this week became the second court in two years to reject a lawsuit seeking to restore voting rights to Minnesotans who are on felony probation sentences.

The suit was filed against Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon in 2019 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota on behalf of four Minnesotans serving long felony probation terms. It placed Simon, a vocal proponent of restoring voting rights to all non-incarcerated felons, in the awkward position of defending the constitutionality of a law he wants changed.

But in an interview Tuesday, Simon said the Legislature, not the courts, should be the venue for restoring such rights.

“As a person, as an advocate, I strongly favor restoring the right to vote to those who have left prison behind,” he said. “I’ve never made any secret of that, and I think Minnesota is happily moving in that direction.”

David McKinney, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said Tuesday that the group would “keep fighting” and appeal this week’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“Felony disenfranchisement is one of the enduring and systemic racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” McKinney said. “Depriving people of their right to vote further entrenches these disparities.”

DFL lawmakers have sought unsuccessfully for years to pass legislation that would immediately return the right to vote to Minnesotans released from prison. One of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Simon, Jennifer Schroeder, became a prominent face in the push for such legislation in 2019 when she shared her story of being unable to vote until 2053 when her 40-year probation term is scheduled to end.

Schroeder is joined by Elizer Darris, Christopher Jecevicus-Varner and Tierre Caldwell, all of whom cannot vote until the end of their own lengthy terms — including a 20-year sentence for Jecevicus-Varner.

The plaintiffs sued Simon in his official capacity as secretary of state, arguing that the prohibition on felon voting is an unconstitutional deprivation “of their fundamental constitutional right to participation in the democratic process.” The plaintiffs argued that the state law violates right-to-vote provisions and equal-protection principles in the Minnesota Constitution as well as its due-process clause.

They sought a court declaration that the statute was unconstitutional and that felons may regain their voting rights upon “being released or excused from incarceration.” A Ramsey County judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for such a declaration last year, and a three-judge Court of Appeals panel upheld the ruling Monday.

Read the complete article here.