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Here's a pop quiz on what you know about the Minnesota Constitution.

Blue Moon Monday: Know your (Minnesota) Constitution?

So you’re comfortable that you know the basics of the Constitution of the United States. What about the Constitution of the State of Minnesota? This column will be my last during the regular legislative session, so let’s see how much you know about our state’s organic document. Here’s a pop quiz:

1. Where is the original copy of Minnesota’s first Constitution as a state?

2. What does the Minnesota Constitution say about God?

3. What is the term of office of a Minnesota state senator?

4. During what months of the year can the Legislature (that is, the House of Representatives) not impeach a constitutional officer who commits corrupt conduct in office?

5. The state Senate votes 67 to 0 to pass a bill, and sends it to the House. The House also votes 67 to 0 to pass the bill. Does the bill become a law?

6. Who becomes governor if both the elected governor and the elected lieutenant governor cannot finish their terms?

7. When can a unit of local government override a law that the Legislature has passed?

8. What kind of license do you need to sell the zucchini that you grew in your garden?

 

Answers

1. This is a trick question: there isn’t one original, there are two. At the 1857 Minnesota constitutional convention, “Intense rivalry between the convention’s Democratic and Republican factions prevented the entire body of delegates from convening in one place and drafting a single constitution. Eventually, a conference committee of five members from each faction met to propose language that was designed to be acceptable to both bodies. On August 28, 1857, after bitter debate, both factions approved the conference committee’s proposed language. However, the members of each faction refused to sign a single document that contained the signatures of the other faction’s members. On August 29, 1857, fifty-three Republican members signed one document of 39 pages and fifty-one Democratic members signed one document of 37 pages.” (Minnesota Historical Society) Both originals are in the Minnesota Historical Society’s archives.

2. The Bill of Rights, the Minnesota Constitution’s first article, includes a section that basically tracks the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses in the federal Bill of Rights. But unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Minnesota Constitution opens with a preamble in which “[w]e, the people of the state of Minnesota” are “grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty.” (But before you conclude that the Minnesota constitution is somehow less secular than the U.S. Constitution, remember that the original U.S. Constitution is dated “the Seventeenth Day of December in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven.” The federal government still dates documents in the same way, including my certificate of admission to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.)

3. Another trick question: The Minnesota Senate may be elected for two years or four, depending on the election’s relationship to the census: “Senators shall be chosen for a term of four years, except to fill a vacancy and except there shall be an entire new election of all the senators at the first election of representatives after each new legislative apportionment provided for in this article” (art. IV, § 4). So while the Minnesota House of Hepresentatives is elected in every even-numbered year, the senate is elected only in the years that end in –2, –6, or –0.

4. From late May through December, the Legislature cannot act at all, unless called into special session by the governor: “The legislature shall not meet in regular session, nor in any adjournment thereof, after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May of any year” (art. IV, § 12). So even though an executive officer or a judge “may be impeached for corrupt conduct in office or for crimes and misdemeanors” (art. VIII, § 2), an officer who blatantly commits corrupt conduct in office over the summer cannot be impeached or removed until the Legislature reconvenes in the next year — unless the governor calls a special session, which only the governor can do (art. IV, § 12).

5. No, that bill does not become a law, at least not as the Legislature is now organized. The constitution doesn’t specify how many legislative districts there are, only that “[t]he number of members who compose the senate and house of representatives shall be prescribed by law” (art. IV, § 2) and that “[n]o representative district shall be divided in the formation of a senate district” (art. IV, § 4). Current law provides for 67 senate districts, each comprising two house districts. (Minn. Stat. § 2.021.) But the constitution also provides that “[n]o law shall be passed unless voted for by a majority of all the members elected to each house of the legislature” (art. IV, § 22) so, with 134 members in the house of representatives, a majority of all the members is 68 — and even a unanimous 67-to-0 votes isn’t enough to enact a bill into law.

6. If the governorship becomes vacant, then the lieutenant governor succeeds to the governorship — and the lieutenant governorship becomes vacant, in which case “[t]he last elected presiding officer of the senate shall become lieutenant governor” (art. V, § 5). Thus, if the state senate and the governorship are controlled by different political parties, and the elected governor and the elected lieutenant governor cannot finish their terms, then a senate president from a different political party could end up as governor.

7. A unit of local government can override a legislative enactment if (a) the law is a special law, which the Minnesota Constitution defines as a law that “applies to a single local government unit or to a group of such units in a single county or a number of contiguous counties” (art. XII, § 2); and (b) the local-government unit has adopted a home-rule charter (art. XII, § 4), in which case “[a]ny special law may be modified or superseded by a later home rule charter or amendment applicable to the same local government unit” (art. XII, § 2).

8. No license at all. It’s not in the Bill of Rights, but rather in article 13, aptly titled “miscellaneous subjects,” where the Minnesota constitution does guarantee that “[a]ny person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor” (art. XIII, § 7). So you have a constitutional right to sell your zucchini without a license.

Brian Melendez

Brian Melendez

Editor’s note:  Brian Melendez is the managing partner at the Minneapolis office of Dykema Gossett PLLC, a former president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, and a contributing editor to Black’s Law Dictionary and various publications about writing and usage. He writes this column as punishment for once having corrected this publication’s editors about a matter of journalistic style and as an outlet for his general curmudgeonliness. When there are two full moons in the same month, the second one is called the blue moon, so this column for the months with five Mondays is “Blue Moon Monday.” Brian can be reached at [email protected]

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