Court Rules on Constitutional Amendments 28 Aug 12

Legislators have the duty to write ballot titles for proposed constitutional amendments, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Monday, eliminating those that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie rewrote earlier this year.

The West Central Tribunre reports the court also ruled that a proposal to require Minnesota voters to show photo identifications before casting ballots will be in front of Minnesotans on November 6th, despite arguments that the language appearing on the ballot is too vague.

Two of the six justices considering the case disagreed with the majority on the ballot title issue.

“Based on our construction of (state law), we hold that the secretary of state erred and exceeded his authority when he provided titles for the ballot questions on the proposed marriage and voter identification amendments different from the titles chosen by the Legislature,” four justices wrote. “Instead, the appropriate titles the secretary of state must provide are the titles passed by the Legislature.”

Republican legislators and others who disputed Ritchie’s rewritten titles said the Democratic secretary of state wrote titles designed to produce votes against the GOP-pushed proposed amendments. Ritchie opposes both.

The photo ID case, also with two dissents, was filed by Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and others who said information to be on the ballot was too vague to accurately represent the actual proposed amendment.

“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 majority justices wrote. “The people are the sole judge of the wisdom of such matters.”

The high court combined two cases challenging Ritchie’s rewriting of the proposed constitutional amendment titles into one case.

Last month, Solicitor General Alan Gilbert told justices that if they overturn Ritchie’s titles, some of the 62 amendments voters passed since 1919 could be tossed out.

Attorney Jordan Lorence, representing GOP lawmakers and others who claim Ritchie violated the state Constitution, said that the case boiled down to whether Richie or legislators had the authority to write the titles. He claimed that the Constitution gives that power to the Legislature.

Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), the author of the voter identification amendment legislation in the Minnesota State Senate, offered the following remarks regarding the Minnesota Supreme

Court ruling on the constitutional amendment and its title:

“Today’s ruling ensures that the voter identification amendment will appear on the ballot with the title the Legislature originally designated. I am pleased that the Court has upheld the Legislature’s authority to designate appropriate titles for constitutional questions that appear before the voter.

“Secretary of State Mark Ritchie overstepped his authority in an effort to mislead and confuse the voter. For Ritchie to change the wording of the ballot question after very specific and understandable titles were provided by the Legislature is a blatant overreach of power by the Secretary of State, encroaching on the lawmaking authority of the Minnesota Legislature.

“I look forward to Election Day when the citizens of Minnesota will have the opportunity to vote on this important election integrity measure.”