Without ruling on the merits of the law itself, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said Thursday that a lower court judge had “no authority” to declare a new law granting felons the right to vote “unconstitutional.”
Judge Matthew Quinn ordered defendants in multiple criminal cases last month to refrain from voting or registering to vote until they complete probation.
“Defendant, having been convicted of a felony offense, is not eligible to vote until the civil right to vote has been otherwise restored,” he wrote.
“[A] sua sponte supplemental sentencing order declaring a legislative act unconstitutional is outside the sentencing authority granted to district courts by the legislature,” the Court of Appeals said. “[The] district court had no authority to declare a statute unconstitutional, sua sponte, in a supplemental sentencing order.”
Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office intervened on behalf of two of the defendants, described Quinn’s orders as an “unjustified and unprompted attack on the right to vote.”
“I’m thankful that the Court of Appeals quickly resolved this important issue. Minnesotans cherish the right to vote, and it’s unacceptable for any person to throw that right into question through an abuse of authority,” added Secretary of State Steve Simon.
The DFL-controlled legislature passed a bill during the 2023 session restoring voting rights to felons once they are released from prison. Previously, felons were required to serve the entirety of their sentence, including probation or parole, before regaining voting rights.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance filed a lawsuit in June challenging the new law with the assistance of the Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC).
“While we supported Judge Quinn’s reasoning on the unconstitutionality of the Felon Voting Law, we took no position on whether the judge had the authority to issue the order in the first place,” said UMLC senior counsel James Dickey. “Our challenge to the Felon Voting Law on behalf of Minnesota Voters Alliance continues in Anoka County District Court and is under the Court’s consideration after our hearing this past Monday, October 30. We look forward to the Court’s decision.”