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MN Court OKs Ballot Question on Police 09/17 06:21


   MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday 
evening for voters in Minneapolis to decide on the future of policing in the 
city where George Floyd was killed, just ahead of the start of early and 
absentee voting.

   The state's highest court overturned a lower court ruling that rejected 
ballot language approved by the City Council. A district judge said the wording 
failed to 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 the justices 
concluded that the challenge to the ballot language did not meet the "high 
standard" that the court set in earlier cases. She said the court will issue a 
full opinion laying out its legal reasoning sometime later to avoid impeding 
the start of voting.

   "Now voters have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this ballot 
question," City Attorney Jim Rowader said.

   The Supreme Court was under pressure to rule quickly because early and 
absentee voting opens at 8 a.m. Friday in the Minneapolis municipal elections. 
The ballots were already being printed when Hennepin County District Judge 
Jamie Anderson ruled against the language Tuesday. It was the second time she 
had struck down the council's wording. Gildea put the case on the fast track 

   Lawyers on both sides said beforehand that they expected the high court 
ruling allowing the ballot language to be the final word, given the late hour. 
Leaders of the pro-amendment Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign have a rally set for 
Friday afternoon.

   "We're all very pleased that the system worked," said Terrance Moore, an 
attorney for Yes 4 Minneapolis. "As ugly as it sometimes looks, the process 
went through from beginning to end and in the end the Supreme Court followed 
the law and its precedent. And the voters get to vote on the ballot question."

   The proposal has its roots in the "defund the police" movement, which gained 
steam after Floyd's death last summer sparked protests, civil unrest and a 
national reckoning on racial justice. The amendment does not use the term 
"defund." But it would remove the city charter's requirement that Minneapolis 
have a police department with a minimum staffing level. Many details of how the 
new agency would work would be left up to the the City Council and mayor to 
decide later.

   Yes 4 Minneapolis, which spearheaded the initiative, insists that the city 
would continue to have police if voters approve the amendment, but that the new 
department would be free to take a fresh approach to public safety that could 
reduce excessive policing against communities of color.

   Opponents of the amendment, including former council member Don Samuels and 
his wife, Sondra, who were behind the court challenge, said the ballot language 
leaves too many important questions unexplained for voters about how the new 
department would be implemented, led, staffed and funded.

   The All of Minneapolis anti-amendment campaign said it will start running 
its first ad on Friday. Its message is that the lack of a plan for what comes 
next if the proposal passes is alarming to many residents, especially given the 
track record of City Council members who have expressed varying degrees of 
support over time for defunding or abolishing the police.

   Yes 4 Minneapolis argued in its filing with the Supreme Court 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 passed new laws to establish the 
new agency, and that the council could keep the force in place as long as 
necessary for an orderly transition.

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