Minnesota Supreme Court says pardon votes must be unanimous

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday that unanimous votes are required for the state Board of Pardons to grant clemency.

Justices overruled a lower court that had declared the 124-year-old standard to be unconstitutional. The order by Justice G. Barry Anderson means that the three board members all must agree to grant a pardon, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Minnesota’s pardons process dates to an 1896 constitutional amendment that took sole authority away from the governor. The Legislature then passed a law requiring a unanimous decision by the board.

Amreya Shefa sued after she was denied a pardon in 2020 on a 2-1 vote. Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison voted for the pardon; Chief Justice Lorie Gildea voted no.

Walz joined with Shefa in arguing two votes should have been enough. A Ramsey County judge sided with them in July. She agreed the process was flawed but stopped short of saying Shefa deserved a pardon in the killing of her husband, whom she accused of repeated sexual abuse.

Shefa’s attorney, Andy Crowder, said she’s likely to be deported to Ethiopia, where she fears her husband’s relatives will kill her.

Walz told reporters he respects the Supreme Court ruling but that he’d like the Legislature to take a look at the law.