Minnesota Supreme Court puts replacing MPD back on the ballot

The high court’s decision is considered the final word in a confusing legal battle that has unfolded over the last several weeks. 

Minneapolis City Council members vow to defund the police at a rally last summer. (Black Visions Minnesota/Twitter)

In an 11th-hour ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that Minneapolis residents can in fact start voting on the future of their police department Friday when early voting begins.

The decision reverses an order from Hennepin County District Judge Jamie Anderson, who has struck down multiple iterations of language approved for the ballot by the Minneapolis City Council.

Anderson called the latest version of the ballot language “unreasonable and misleading” and said it failed to “ensure that voters are able to understand the essential purpose of the proposed amendment.”

Her order also prohibited the city from counting votes cast on the question, since ballots have already been printed.

But that was reversed in a Thursday night ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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

The high court’s decision is considered the final word in a confusing legal battle that has unfolded over the last several weeks.

Beginning Friday at 8 a.m., Minneapolis residents will decide if they want to amend the city charter to replace the police department with a new department of public safety that will include police officers only “if necessary.”

A family bikes near the Hennepin County Government Center with a sign calling for the abolition of the Minneapolis Police Department shortly after George Floyd’s death. (Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)

The proposal also removes a requirement that the city fund a minimum number of police officers per resident, eliminates the position of “police chief,” and deletes language in the charter granting the mayor “complete power” over the police.

A group called Yes 4 Minneapolis successfully petitioned to get this question on the ballot.

In a court filing, attorneys for Yes 4 Minneapolis argued that the police department will continue to exist under city ordinance “until the City Council makes the transition required by the amendment.”

“The amendment would remove the Charter requirement of a Police Department. It would not affect the City’s option to continue to support a Police Department during the transition. The City Council can keep the Police Force in place as long as is necessary in order to make an orderly transition. How the City Council chooses to make that transition will be left to the political process,” the attorneys said.

But opponents of the charter amendment, led by former Council Member Don Samuels and his wife, remain concerned about the many “ambiguities.” They also argue that while the amendment may not automatically “abolish” or “defund” the police, many members of the City Council have expressed support for doing just that — and will have the power to do so if the amendment passes.

“A fair reading of the ballot question in light of Minnesota law leads to the conclusion that if the ballot question passes, the Police Department will be ‘removed’ (whatever that means) on the effective date of the amendment. Although reading the ballot question provides no clue as to the effective date, Minnesota statutes make the effective date December 2, 2021,” their attorneys said in a court filing.

They believe that city leaders — “it is unclear who” — will be responsible for building a new department of public safety essentially from scratch, which could lead to transitional “chaos.”

“Today’s ruling shows that the people of Minneapolis are more powerful than a handful of people with money and connections. Voters can rejoice that their voice, their civic engagement, and their votes matter,” Yes 4 Minneapolis said in a statement.

“Now that the democracy of Minneapolis has been recognized, the Yes on Question 2 campaign and the people of Minneapolis can focus on the choice to expand public safety with a department that uses a comprehensive public-health approach. We can finally have transparency and accountability, along with qualified and trained professionals, like mental health specialists and social workers along with police, to keep us all safe.”

Here’s what voters will see on their ballots:

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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.