Minnesota Supreme Court to hear challenge of new felon voting law

The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a new law that automatically restores voting rights to people convicted of a felony who are still on parole, probation, or supervised release in the state.

On March 3, 2023, Governor Tim Walz (D) signed House File 28 into law. Previously in Minnesota, the state restored voting rights to people convicted of a felony after they completed all aspects of their sentence, including parole or probation. The new law restored voting rights to these individuals upon completion of incarceration, regardless of other conditions of their sentence.

In June 2023, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, which describes itself as an “organization focusing primarily on election integrity, research, voter education, and advocacy,” challenged the new law’s constitutionality in state court. They alleged, “The Constitution does not create legislative authority to restore the singular right to vote before all civil rights are restored to an individual convicted of a felony.”

In December 2023, a state judge dismissed the case. The Minnesota Voters Alliance appealed the decision and asked that the Minnesota Supreme Court hear the case directly, skipping the state Court of Appeals.

On Jan. 16, 2024, Chief Justice Natalie Hudson issued an order granting the appeal and scheduled oral arguments for April 1. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in February 2023 that the previous law—barring those convicted of a felony who had not completed parole, probation, or other elements of their sentence from voting—was constitutional. After the ruling, the Minnesota legislature adopted the new law through HF 28. According to reporting from Minnesota Reformer, 55,000 individuals in the state were permitted to vote in 2023 under the new law that otherwise would not have been eligible to vote.

As of January 2024, 38 states automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of a felony upon their release or at some point after that, 22 of which restore voting rights automatically upon completion of a prison sentence. Ten states do not automatically restore voting rights, and two states allow people convicted of a felony to vote while incarcerated.

Although judges in Minnesota participate in nonpartisan elections in even-numbered years, all seven justices currently serving on the state’s highest court were initially appointed by a governor. Democratic governors appointed six of the current justices, while a Republican governor appointed one. Justices must run for re-election in nonpartisan elections for subsequent terms.