Dayton-appointed judge calls felon voting law unconstitutional in ‘unprecedented’ move 

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Keith Ellison said they believe the judge's orders are “not lawful.” 

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Secretary of State Steve Simon speaks at a press conference on the June 1 enactment of the new law. (Restore the Vote/Facebook)

A Mille Lacs County judge who was appointed to the bench by former Democratic governor Mark Dayton said in two orders last week that a new law granting felons the right to vote before they complete their sentence is “unconstitutional.”

Judge Matthew Quinn ordered defendants in two criminal cases 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.

Attached to his orders was a memorandum calling HF 28, the felon voting bill, an “unconstitutional act.”

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, arguing that the Minnesota Constitution prohibits felons from voting until they have been “restored to civil rights.”

“That’s ‘civil rights,’ plural, meaning all civil rights that a non-felon possesses. The Constitution does not create legislative authority to restore the singular right to vote before all civil rights are restored to an individual convicted of a felony,” the lawsuit argues.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Keith Ellison said they believe Quinn’s orders are “not lawful.”

“The orders have no statewide impact, and should not create fear, uncertainty, or doubt. In Minnesota, if you are over 18, a U.S. citizen, a resident of Minnesota for at least 20 days, and not currently incarcerated, you are eligible to vote. Period. It is critically important that everyone whose rights were restored understands that they are welcome in our democracy,” they said in a joint statement.

David McKinney, a staff attorney for the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, released a lengthy statement calling Quinn’s rulings “procedurally unprecedented.”

He speculated that Quinn’s orders could constitute “judicial activism,” pointing to a 2021 document wherein the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards publicly reprimanded Quinn for liking pro-Trump posts on his personal Facebook page and participating in a “Trump Boat Parade.”

Quinn’s actions violated judicial rules prohibiting judges from publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office, the board said.

“Courts are constitutionally bound to provide due process to parties, which includes an opportunity to be heard by an unbiased decision maker; to decide actual cases and controversies; and to refrain from issuing advisory opinions or deciding cases merely to create precedent. This judge’s ruling seems to clearly go beyond these guardrails,” McKinney said.

“Our understanding is that this judge took it upon himself during routine criminal sentencings to decide the issue of the constitutionality of a statute of his own accord. The issue was not raised by any party or attorney in the cases before the judge, nor was anyone given notice that he was even considering this issue, let alone the opportunity to provide briefing or oral argument. The judge produced this opinion out of thin air.”


Anthony Gockowski

Anthony Gockowski is Editor-in-Chief of Alpha News. He previously worked as an editor for The Minnesota Sun and Campus Reform, and wrote for the Daily Caller.