The Minnesota Voters Alliance has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit brought against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because Attorney General Keith Ellison and Secretary of State Steve Simon have failed to properly defend Minnesota law, the non-profit said Tuesday.
The ACLU’s Minnesota branch sued Simon in his official capacity as secretary of state in an October 21 complaint, which seeks to restore the right to vote for convicted felons who have been released from prison.
The lawsuit argues that “no legitimate or rational government interest is served by refusing to restore the right to vote until discharge.”
Minnesota is currently one of 22 states that revokes voting rights for felons during incarceration and for any period of parole or probation. A number of other states restore voting rights immediately upon release from prison, while felons in Maine and Vermont never lose the right to vote.
Simon, represented by Attorney General Ellison, filed his response to the lawsuit on November 12, but failed to argue that the ACLU has no right under Minnesota law to sue the state in this case.
“Simon has formally, and bindingly, agreed that, under the Minnesota Constitution, the ACLU, as a private person, has a right to sue the State in this case,” the Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA) said in a Tuesday press release. “On the contrary, black letter case law holds that the Minnesota Constitution does not provide private citizens the right to sue the government. The ACLU claims it does have the right to sue, and Ellison and Simon have abandoned the case law and the longstanding, prevailing position of the State in these types of cases.”
Because of the failure of Ellison and Simon to “raise the most fundamental defense available” and, as a result, get “the entire complaint dismissed,” the MVA has filed a motion to intervene in the case.
Private Cause of Action
The MVA asked the Ramsey County District Court to name the organization an “intervenor defendant” in the case for the primary purpose of “asserting to the court the defense which the state has waived.”
That defense is commonly referred to as a “lack of private cause to action” on the part of the plaintiffs. Like the MVA, three conservative organizations sought a motion to intervene in a legal challenge brought against the state by pro-abortion advocates, The Minnesota Sun reported in October.
The Thomas More Society, its clients, and a number of Republican legislators said Ellison failed to raise the strongest defense against the lawsuit, accusing him of presenting a “seemingly intentionally partial defense” of Minnesota’s pro-life laws.
The Thomas More Society and the MVA both note that Ellison has routinely applied the “lack of private cause to action” defense to dismiss other lawsuits brought against the state, but hasn’t done so in cases where he publicly agrees with the plaintiffs.
MVA said the only explanation for Ellison’s failure to present “the most fundamental defense” is that he and Simon “are acting on their well publicized and deeply held views that felons on probation should be allowed to vote.”
Support of Felon Voting Rights
Secretary of State Simon received a standing ovation during Minnesota’s January inauguration ceremony when he called for restoring the “right to vote for those who have left prison behind.” Around that same time, Simon announced his “Investing in Democracy” agenda and expressed his support for “restoring the right to vote at the end of a prison term.”
While a member of Congress, Attorney General Ellison championed an amendment to the Constitution that would have established “a fundamental right to vote” for “every citizen in the United States.” He was open about his support for felon voting rights in a February 2019 interview and said he was assigning someone in his office to “work on voting rights.”
The MVA states in its motion to intervene that “failing to assert this defense has caused unnecessary litigation wasting taxpayers’ funds.”
The motion to intervene and the MVA’s proposed defense to the lawsuit can be viewed below: