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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published August 27 2012

Minnesota high court grants Republicans pair of amendment wins

ST. PAUL – Minnesotans’ Nov. 6 ballots will show two proposed constitutional amendments with titles the Republican-controlled Legislature wanted.

Four of six Minnesota Supreme Court justices ruled Monday that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie exceeded his authority in rewriting titles of the two amendments. The court ordered the Legislature-written titles to appear on ballots.

In another case, the same four justices ruled that the question voters will see on their ballots to require voters to produce photographic identification also will be as the Legislature wrote. The League of Women Voters and Common Cause challenged the question as being so vague the court should have removed it from the ballot.

Titles on the amendments, like headlines on news stories, are important, said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson. “Unfortunately, there are a fair number of people who maybe don’t do the homework that they should. They will rely on what the title says.”

Newman, chief Senate photo ID author, said it was important to get “photo ID” in the title, but what Ritchie wrote did not include it.

“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,” the four justices wrote.

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.

The photo ID case centered on whether the question voters will see Nov. 6 is 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.

Voters will see the title of each amendment on the ballot, along with a summary known as the question. The entire amendment often does not appear on the ballot, although Justice Paul Anderson in his dissent said he thought it should.

Justices Alan Page and Anderson, the only two not appointed by a Republican governor, strongly dissented in both rulings. Justice Helen Meyer retired this month and did not participate in the cases.

Newman said he does not think the decision was political.

“When judges make decisions, they are not supposed to make it based on their political affiliations or leanings,” said Newman, who is a lawyer.

The majority wrote that removing a proposed constitutional amendment from the ballot would be unprecedented.

“We must evaluate the ballot question with a high degree of deference to the Legislature,” the four wrote.

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

One constitutional amendment proposal would define marriage as between a man and a woman. The Republican-written title was “Recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman,” but Ritchie changed it to “Limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples.”

The original photo ID title was “Photo identification required for voting,” while Ritchie’s re-written version was “Changes to in-person and absentee voting and voter registration; provisional ballots.”

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications