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MN Supreme Court orders Secretary of State to utilize Legislature’s titles for ballot questions

Paul Demko//August 27, 2012

MN Supreme Court orders Secretary of State to utilize Legislature’s titles for ballot questions

Paul Demko//August 27, 2012

MN Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Legislature has the authority to provide titles for ballot questions and ordered Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to utilize the House and Senate’s titles for proposed constitutional amendments prohibiting gay marriage and requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

The court’s ruling was a rebuke to Ritchie, who had substituted his own titles for the controversial ballot questions. More than a dozen Republican legislators, along with a conservative advocacy group, sued the state seeking to overturn the DFL Secretary of State’s actions.

“There is no dispute in this case that the constitution does not specifically provide a role for the Executive Branch in the amendment process,” the unsigned opinion stated. “Allowing the Secretary of State, an Executive Branch Office with no constitutional authority over the form and manner of proposed constitutional amendments, to simply ignore the Legislature’s action in proposing and passing a title to accompany a ballot question on a constitutional amendment potentially risks interfering with the Legislature’s constitutional authority.”

Two justices — Alan Page and Paul Anderson — wrote dissenting opinions in the case. They argued that the court’s majority was creating a constitutional conflict where none exists. “The court refused to apply the plain language of section 204D.15 for fear of triggering a constitutional crisis,” Page wrote.

At the end of the 2011 legislative session, the Legislature passed the marriage amendment bill with a title stating: “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.” Ritchie rewrote the title to state: “Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples.”

The photo ID amendment was passed by the Legislature during this year’s regular legislative session with the title: “Photo Identification Required for Voting.” Ritchie switched the title to: “Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots.”

Ritchie cited a 1919 statute requiring the Secretary of State “provide an appropriate title” for ballot questions as evidence that he was acting within his authority. But GOP legislators argued that their constitutional authority to enact legislation trumped state statute.


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