Minnesota Supreme Court rejects challenge to photo ID
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota conservatives won key victories Monday in their push to require voters to show photo identification at the polls and to ban gay marriage in the state constitution.
In a pair of 4-2 rulings, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit from liberal groups who sought to toss the photo ID question off the ballot and struck down substitute ballot titles that Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie wrote for both proposed constitutional amendments.
Both questions — as written and titled by the Republican-controlled Legislature — will remain on the November ballot.
The court rejected the liberal groups' argument that the proposed photo ID amendment was vague and misleading and sided with Republicans who argued that Ritchie was trying to bias voters against both amendments with prejudicial language. The Legislature pushed both proposed amendments through over opposition from Democrats, including Gov. Mark Dayton.
Dayton vetoed a photo ID law last year, but he has no power to block constitutional amendments that are sent directly to voters.
The ruling from the court's majority — all justices appointed by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty — acknowledged the voter ID ballot question doesn't match up with the longer, more detailed constitutional amendment. But it said that wasn't a reason for the court to meddle in a matter between the Legislature and voters. The Legislature has sole power to put constitutional amendments on the ballot for a direct vote, and a majority of voters must approve any change to the Minnesota Constitution.
"It may indeed have been wiser for the Legislature to include the entire amendment on the ballot," the ruling said. "The proper role for the judiciary, however, is not to second-guess the wisdom of policy decisions that the constitution commits to one of the political branches. The people are the sole judge of the wisdom of such matters."
The decisions drew cheers from conservatives.
"This is a big day for the people of Minnesota," said Sen. Warren Limmer, the Maple Grove Republican who sponsored the gay marriage amendment in the Senate.
Sen. Scott Newman, who sponsored the voter ID amendment in the Senate, said Ritchie's titles might have swayed some undecided voters, but he said that wasn't the biggest concern.
"If Secretary of State Ritchie's opinions had been upheld, he literally would have been vetoing the Legislature, and that to me is a very troubling prospect," said Newman, R-Hutchinson.
The League of Women Voters and other groups opposed to photo ID had argued that the ballot question was too brief and voters wouldn't have enough information at the polls to properly understand what was at stake, including a provisional voting system for voters who show up without their IDs. Minnesota does not currently require voters to show identification.
Supporters of photo ID argued that the Legislature has exclusive power to write ballot questions.
They also say the identification requirement is necessary to guard against voter fraud. Opponents say such fraud is rare, and the requirement will keep some people from voting.
After the Legislature approved the ballot questions, Ritchie changed both titles. He changed the title for the marriage ban from "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman" to "Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples." He rewrote the photo ID title from "Photo Identification Required for Voting" to "Changes to In-Person & Absentee Voting & Voter Registration; Provisional Ballots."
Limmer said the Legislature deliberately adopted neutral titles for the ballot questions.
"We did not want to sway the voter in any manner," he said. "We found it objectionable that the secretary of state would take it upon himself in unilateral action."
The cases showed a rift in the court, with a blistering dissent from Justice Alan Page in the voter ID case. Page, who was elected to the court, was joined by Justice Paul Anderson, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson.
"It is ironic, if not Orwellian, that in the name of 'protecting' the vote and preventing unspecified voting 'fraud,' the Legislature has resorted to a ballot question that deliberately deceives and misleads the very voters it claims must be protected. I cannot explain, nor can I understand, the court's willingness to be complicit with the Legislature in this effort," Page wrote.
In a separate dissent, Anderson said the entire language of the voter ID amendment should be placed on the ballot so voters could decide on the full proposal.
The majority consisted of Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Justices G. Barry Anderson, Christopher Dietzen and David Stras. Justice Helen Meyer, who was appointed by former Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura, retired earlier this month and did not participate in the cases. Dayton's first appointee to the high court, Justice Wilhelmina Wright, has yet to join the court.
Ritchie issued a brief statement, thanking the court for its rulings and directing voters to his office's website to read the full language of the proposed amendments. He had requested the court make a decision by Monday to give his office time to prepare ballots.
Luchelle Stevens, who heads a statewide effort to defeat the photo ID amendment, said the rulings wouldn't stop the campaign to defeat "this unnecessary, extreme and expensive overhaul of Minnesota's election system."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.