Can’t Convince ‘em? Confuse ‘em

It's plain hokum. If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em. It's an old political trick. But this time it won't work ~ Harry S. Truman

Watching the Minnesota Supreme Court arguments (thanks to The Uptake) on the proposed voter ID and anti-same sex marriage amendments revealed a process that seemed to confuse, even irk, the jurists; the sparring among opponents certainly confused this viewer.

Going forward, I hope that the thinly-veiled effort to influence the turnout of the next election—and those that follow—will wither under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and the informed caution of Minnesota voters.

The issue before the Court wasn’t on the wording of the two proposed amendments but specifically on whether the Legislature or the Executive Branch (i.e. the Secretary of State) has the authority and responsibility to prescribe the wording on the ballot that will face Minnesota voters in November.

A sub-issue stems from Governor Dayton’s veto of the original legislation initiated by the conservative majority; this raises the question whether amendment titles are considered ordinary legislation, subject to gubernatorial veto, or if they come under the Legislature’s exclusive power to propose Constitution amendments for voter approval.

The Court’s questions were focused and piercing. At times the members of the Court got a tad testy at the evasive maneuvers of the attorneys.

For example, Jordan Lorence, representing conservative lawmakers and other amendment advocates, argued at one point that the fact that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie had not edited the title of the 2008 Legacy amendment indicates that leaving the legislative language intact is normal practice.

Solicitor General Alan Gilbert, representing Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson, reminded the Court and observers that the 1919 law clearly designated the Secretary of State as the authority responsible for the ballot language. Gilbert projected that disruption of that process would put into question nearly a century of constitutional amendments to the Minnesota Constitution.

The courtroom drama masks the real issue that lurks in the wings in this and several other states. Conservatives who hold the majority in the Minnesota Legislature see legislation by Constitutional Amendment as a viable option—at least for the duration of their tenure.

One change that was clearly on the minds of some of the members of the Court would be to resolve the current dilemma by dropping or postponing the proposed amendments altogether.

The Court has indicated that a ruling will be forthcoming within a month, still leaving the four weeks preparation time the Secretary of State’s office and local organizers will need to implement changes as necessary.

You can review the July 31 happenings in the Minnesota Supreme Court on The Uptake. Meanwhile, the individual amendments (nicknamed for now the “Marriage Amendment” and the “Voter ID Amendment” are best tracked as distinct issues, separated at birth in the Legislature, joined as they face the Judicial Branch as a clash between the Executive and Legislative branches of state government.

Posted in News & Notes | Related Topics: 2012 Election  Courts & Justice  Minnesota Elections 

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