Jerry Holt / Star Tribune via AP
MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday night for Minneapolis voters to decide the future of policing in the city where George Floyd was killed, just before early and postal voting began.
The state’s highest court overturned a lower court ruling that rejected ballot language approved by city council. A district judge said the wording did not adequately describe the effects of a proposed charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that “could include” police officers “if necessary”.
But Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said in a three-page order that judges had concluded that the challenge to the language of the ballot did not meet “high standards” set by the court in previous cases. She said the court would issue a full notice setting out its legal reasoning a little later to avoid obstructing the start of the vote.
The Supreme Court was under pressure to rule quickly as early and postal voting opens Friday at 8 a.m. in the Minneapolis municipal election. The ballots were already being printed when Hennepin County District Judge Jamie Anderson ruled against the language on Tuesday. This was the second time that she had rescinded the wording of the advice. Chief Justice Lorie Gildea put the case on the fast track on Wednesday.
Lawyers on both sides have said in advance that they expect the High Court’s decision allowing the language of the ballot to be the last word, given the late hour. Leaders of the Yes 4 Minneapolis pro-amendment campaign continued with a rally scheduled for Friday afternoon.
The proposal has its roots in the “defund the police” movement, which gained momentum after Floyd’s death last summer sparked protests, civil unrest and a nationwide reckoning on racial justice. The amendment does not use the term “defund”. But that would remove the city’s charter requirement that Minneapolis have a minimum-staffed police department. Many details of how the new agency would work would be left to city council and the mayor to decide later.
Yes 4 Minneapolis, which spearheaded the initiative, insists the city would continue to have police officers if voters approve the amendment, but the new department would be free to adopt a new approach to public safety that could reduce excessive policing against communities of color.
Opponents of the amendment, including former board member Don Samuels and his wife, Sondra, said the wording of the ballot left too many important questions unexplained for voters about how the new department would be implemented, directed, staffed and funded.
Yes 4 Minneapolis argued in its Supreme Court filing that the Minneapolis Police Department would not automatically disappear if the amendment passed. The group said the department would continue to exist under current city ordinances until the city council passes new laws to establish the new agency, and the council could keep the force in place for as long as needed to an orderly transition.