Judge tosses conservatives from felon voting rights case

Minnesotans on probation for felonies are now one step closer to the voting booth.

Minnesotans on probation for felonies are now one step closer to the voting booth. Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

A Ramsey County judge had some choice words for Minnesota’s main voter suppression group this week, ruling the Minnesota Voters Alliance is not allowed to intervene in a landmark case that could restore the vote for felons on probation, parole, or another form of supervised release.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently suing Secretary of State Steve Simon, Minnesota’s chief elections official, to restore voting rights during the probation period following a felony conviction. ACLU argues it’s unconstitutional to disenfranchise those people, a group that counts 52,000 Minnesotans.

Minnesota Voters Alliance, a confoundingly named anti-voting rights group we covered at length in a cover story earlier this month, quickly filed to intervene in the ACLU’s suit.

The MVA accused Attorney General Keith Ellison of failing to defend the state law merely because he doesn’t likeit. Its case argued that individuals are barred from suing the government based on alleged violations of the state constitution, and that Ellison could've had the ACLU suit dismissed had he only pointed that out. Instead, the attorney general allowed the litigation to proceed at taxpayer expense.

That’s a Bad Legal Take in Ramsey County Judge Richard H. Kyle's opinion.

Kyle ruled Wednesday MVA has no business intervening in the ACLU’s lawsuit. Being a taxpayer doesn’t give someone an automatic right to butt into any court case where lawyers are paid by public funds, the judge explained. Otherwise, you could intervene in criminal prosecutions, cases being handled by legal aid attorneys, and any and all lawsuits filed against the state.

“The subject matter of the litigation – restoring voting rights to individuals whose criminal sentences have not been fully discharged – has nothing to do with money, let alone taxpayer funds,” Kyle wrote in his analysis.

He went on:

“MVA is claiming taxpayer standing on the basis that the Attorney General’s office is causing unnecessary litigation by failing to argue MVA’s favored defense (lack of private cause of action), but by intervening in this case, MVA will create more work for the Attorney General’s office and thus use more public funds.

MVA argues that it is attempting to safeguard taxpayer funds, when in reality, its intervention is causing the expenditure of those funds.”

Kyle added Ellison still has the chance to take MVA's advice and raise the defense that people can’t just sue the government for civil rights under the Minnesota constitution.

However, that claim might turn out to be just another waste of time and money, as many prior cases have found in favor of Minnesotans who did just that.