Minnesota Supreme Court considers felon voting rights case

The Minnesota Supreme Court is set to decide when convicted felons get their voting rights restored.

The seven-member panel heard an hour of oral arguments Tuesday over a state law that requires people with felony records to finish their probation or parole sentence before legally being able to vote.

Would-be voters and the American Civil Liberties Union sued, arguing the law is unconstitutional for more than 50,000 people with felony records. In court, they argued that justices must act because lawmakers have not.

"My clients have been (at the Capitol) year after year requesting restoration of their right to vote and they’ve gotten nowhere," said Craig Coleman, an attorney for the ACLU. "The Legislature consistently ignores them, and they can do that without accountability, because they can’t vote."

Angela Behrens, an attorney for Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, argued that the court should leave the law intact -- even though Simon is a supporter of legislative changes to the law.

"Whether rights should be restored earlier is certainly up for debate, and if this was a hearing before a legislative committee, the parties would likely be aligned," Behrens said. "The secretary has been a public advocate for changing this statute. But that is a policy issue beyond this court’s authority."

Lower courts have rejected the constitutional challenge, and the state Supreme Court agreed to take the case in July. At the conclusion of the session, justices did not give a timeframe for issuing an opinion.