Ellison argued against emergency powers when a Republican was governor

Newly recirculated video shows Ellison arguing as a state lawmaker against the same emergency powers he protected for Walz during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lorie Shaull/Flickr

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison once argued for limits on emergency powers before he upheld effectively unlimited emergency powers for Democrats during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is absolutely nothing more important than safeguarding the liberty of the people we are charged to represent,” Ellison said before the Minnesota Legislature when he was a state representative in 2005. This statement came during a debate about what powers the government should enjoy during times of emergency. At that time, Republican Tim Pawlenty was Minnesota’s governor.

“There should be a sunset in this bill [to provide emergency powers], we should be forced to look at this stuff on a regular basis. We should have to come back to see what works and what doesn’t and review this stuff … we are in an evolving situation as it relates to what we know,” he said.

“I hope we put ourselves in a position where we have to look at this again,” then-representative Ellison concluded. “There absolutely should be a sunset provision in here, and we’ve got to look at this thing on a regular basis, and tweak it and work it and massage it until it fits with our constitutionally-mandated duty.”

Current State Rep. Mary Franson found and recirculated this footage via Twitter.

Over the last 16 months, Attorney General Ellison has seemingly contradicted his previous stance that there should be limits on emergency powers. Gov. Tim Walz enjoyed multiple extensions to his powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, bolstered each time by his AG, who serves on the executive council that must approve each extension.

Ellison not only sued small business owners who failed to comply with Walz’s shutdown of the economy, but he penned legal justifications for the governor’s authority.

“As Minnesota’s chief legal officer, I want to assure all Minnesotans that the Governor is operating well within his statutory and constitutional authority,” the AG said in a press release after state Republicans raised concerns that Walz was illegally leveraging his powers last year.

However, Ellison’s support for politicians taking decisive action during times of emergency seems to be party-dependent. When former President Donald Trump declared an emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border, Ellison signed Minnesota on to a lawsuit against the White House.

“This is not a real emergency,” he said, accusing Trump of politicizing a crisis.

The Minnesota Legislature voted to revoke Walz’s emergency powers last week after more than 450 days. The governor would have liked to retain his powers through August 1, but the Democratic-controlled House chose not to fend off Senate Republicans, who succeeded in ending Walz’s emergency declaration, which had been extended every 30 days since March 2020.