Tag Archives: Minnesota Supreme Court

Strong Women in the Life of Associate Justice McKeig

On Thursday, September 15, 2016, Anne K. McKeig took the oath of office as the newest member of the Minnesota Supreme Court.   As most Minnesotans know Associate Justice McKeig is the first American Indian member of the State’s highest court.

Along with many MPR listeners I learned more about McKeig when she was interviewed recently by host Tom Weber. (https://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/08/02/anne-mckeig) Inspired and intrigued by McKeig’s life story I have been thinking about the powerful women who, I must believe, have influenced her life. Since there exist countless McKeig interviews, features, photos, bios and factoids, I decided to focus here on a few women who almost certainly helped to shape her ideas and support her efforts, women who shared their strength with this promising young jurist.

These are not legal scholars, who obviously had a hand; they are instead strong women who served as role models along McTeig’s path to the Court. Though a realize there are countless others – these are the women who might be overlooked in the official narrative.

The first woman who comes to mind is Ruth Myers, known as the Mother of American Indian Education in Minnesota. A member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) Ruth broke ground as the first American Indian to serve on the Duluth School Board. She was later appointed by Governor Perpich to serve on the Minnesota State Board of Education, a policy-making board later deep-sixed by the Legislature.   Ruth was my role model and friend – to record her story I submitted a short piece for MnOpedia. (http://www.mnopedia.org/person/myers-ruth-1926-2001) I feel certain that, though she died in 2001, Ruth Myers left a path for the young McKeig to follow.

And then there is Cecilia Wattles McKeig, Anne’s mother. A graduate of the College of St. Catherine, Cecilia went on to earn a Masters degree in History from the University of Minnesota. She settled in Federal Dam, Minnesota, (the town of 110_ residents now made famous by McKeig) where she served for thirty years as Director of Indian Education at Northland High school.

Cecelia McKeig is herself a published author; her history of the Bemidji area was published by the Beltrami County History Center in 2013. (Bemidji: A Snapshot of Bemidji 1940-1960: Arcadia Publishing, 2013) Last Spring Ceceilia McKeig was honored with the St. Catherine University Medal of Distinction, in recognition of her work as educator and historian.

Following in her mother’s education footsteps, Anne McKeig graduated from St. Catherine University, a liberal arts college for women founded in 1905 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. The strength and wisdom of early – if undeclared – feminists lives on in the mission, the curriculum and, some would argue, the structures themselves.

It is no coincidence that McKeig’s recent swearing in ceremony took place at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University – or that the students from Northland High School performed a drum circle – or that the White Earth Color Guard posted colors — at that festive, and deeply meaningful, event.

Note: For a touching video of Justice McKeig, in which she expresses thanks for her mentors, including retired Justice Robert A. Blaeser and his wife click here: http://theuptake.org/2016/06/28/live-video-gov-dayton-appoints-a-supreme-court-justice/



Truth Lurks Behind Semantics as Court Deliberates Who Names Constitutional Amendments

It’s plain hokum. If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em. It’s an old political trick. But this time it won’t work ~ Harry S. Truman

We can hope that HST was prescient and that the thinly-veiled effort to influence the turnout of the next election – and those that follow – will wither under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and the informed caution of Minnesota voters.  The Uptake coverage of yesterday’s proceedings captured a process that seemed to confuse, even irk, the jurists;  the sparring among opponents certainly confused this viewer.

The issue on the Court’s docket this week is not on the wording of the two proposed amendments but specifically on whether the Legislature or the Executive Branch (i.e. the Secretary of State) has the authority and responsibility to prescribe the wording on the ballot that will face Minnesota voters in November.  A sub-issue stems from Governor Dayton’s veto of the original legislation initiated by the IR majority;  this raises the question whether amendment titles are considered ordinary legislation, subject to gubernatorial veto, or if they come under the Legislature’s exclusive power to propose Constitution amendments for voter approval.

The Court’s questions were focused and piercing.  At times the members of the Court got a tad testy at the evasive maneuvers of the attorneys.

For example, Attorney Jordan Lorence, representing the IR lawmakers and other amendment advocates, argued at one point that the fact that Ritchie had not edited the title of the 2008 Legacy amendment indicates that leaving the legislative language intact is normal practice.  Solicitor General Alan Gilbert, representing Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson, reminded the Court and observers that the 1919 law clearly designated the Secretary of State as the authority responsible for the ballot language. Gilbert projected that disruption of that process would put into question nearly a century of constitutional amendments to the Minnesota Constitution..

The courtroom drama masks the real issue that lurks in the wings in this and several other states. Republicans who hold the majority in the Minnesota Legislature see legislation by Constitutional Amendment as a viable option – at least for the duration of their tenure.

One change that was clearly on the minds of some of the members of the Court would be to resolve the current dilemma by dropping or postponing the proposed amendments altogether.  Given the enormity of the policy implications that echo the judgment faced by Solomon himself this does seem like an option.

The Court has indicated that a ruling will be forthcoming within a month, still leaving the four weeks preparation time the Secretary of State’s office and local organizers will need to implement changes as necessary.


To review the July 31 happenings in the Minnesota Supreme Court click on The Uptake’s video coverage.  Meanwhile, the individual amendments (nicknamed for now the “Marriage Amendment” and the “Voter ID Amendment” are best tracked as distinct issues, separated at birth in the Legislature, joined as they face the Judicial Branch as a clash between the Executive and Legislative branches of state government.


Minnesota’s Voter ID Amendment – The Trojan Horse Has Left the Gate

Minnesotans are accustomed to a fair and honest election process that encourages citizens to vote.  Under the direction of the Secretary of State, the election supported by a host of advocacy groups ranging from the venerable League of Women Voters and vigorous political parties to groups representing newly-enfranchised high school and college students and immigrants who hail from elsewhere but now call Minnesota home, citizens with physical or language barriers, those who are homeless, homebound, elderly, impoverished or who live outside the social or political loop.

The right to participate in this open process that most Minnesotans enjoy – and in which too few participate – is hard won by state officials, advocacy groups, the faith community, school groups and promoters of lifelong voting have long taken pride in the participatory process which they have collectively wrought.

Like the people of Troy, we sleep in the smug confidence that we are at peace.  With alarm, we are slowly waking to the harsh reality that, as State Representative Ryan Winkler metaphorically warns, the Trojan Horse is at the gate.

At this writing, the challenge is to hold the Trojan Horse at bay.  Advocacy groups are challenging the action of the IR Legislature to put the Voter ID Amendment on the November ballot.  This week the challenge has moved to the Supreme Court which has no option but to take it on.  Many hold out hope that the Amendment will not make it to the ballot.

And so we slumber on

Meanwhile, Amendment supporters push on with their impassioned case for passage.  The Voter ID Amendment, they maintain, will prevent the unfit – immigrants, felons, the homeless, elderly Minnesotans who have never had an ID, and those who don’t deserve the privilege anyway – to step aside and make way for Real Minnesotans, i.e. those who have a valid state issued ID.

Some of those who proposed and many of the legislators who bought their misinformed stories of malfeasance, may think they are doing what’s best for Minnesotans – though they  may have experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance as proponent Dan McGrath advised a Moral Majority audience that the “Voter ID is something that the polls show people want.  [Opponents] are afraid of the will of the people.  They’re afraid to let people vote.”

Intrepid opponents of the Voter ID Amendment will heed the ancient admonition: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. (Though the aphorism may be politically incorrect in these troubled times, it works here as the mythological metaphor.)

From the perspective of opponents, the Voter ID ruckus offers a “teachable moment”, a time when people on both sides of the issue recognize that this sound and fury must signify something.  Voter promotion efforts – get-out-the-vote and voter registration – present untapped opportunities to inform and educate citizens about the struggle for voting rights, the challenges and the ways in which the state-issued Voter ID is a potential threat to citizens’ exercise of their rights.  Some possibilities to ponder:

  • Recognize upfront that prior censorship is a powerful restraint on nonprofit organizations, the media, even the business community.  Encourage and facilitate their inclusion of nonpartisan discussions of the election process and citizen rights on their programs and in their print and digital publications.  Political discourse need not be partisan.
  • Identify and work with individuals and organizations that reach those who may be disenfranchised by the Amendment – houses of worship, colleges, senior citizen centers, the disabled community, labor unions, youth groups, outreach efforts to felons who have paid their debt, the homeless who cannot obtain a state-issued ID  – not to mention immigrant communities in desperate need of affirmative action.  Ethnic groups that share an interest gather often and everywhere – leaders need programs that meet their constituents’ needs.  Carpe diem!
  • Monitor what’s happening in the courts, starting with oral arguments now set for July 17.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has asked the state to deal with the imponderable – to change or to quash the proposed Amendment.  Circle July 17 on the calendar.
  • Pressure the media to face the tide of misinformation with solid investigative reporting and nonpartisan, unbiased coverage of voter validation and other issues related to the electoral process.  Contribute corrections and alternative views via the editorial page.
  • Explain in concrete terms that the teams of Trojan Horses are at states throughout the nation.  Florida is – and has been –a bellwether.
  • Stress the high cost of Voter ID implementation – costs that not only preclude those who cannot afford the personal burden but which impose a heavy burden on the general public.
  • Factor in the complexity of barriers to obtaining a state-issued ID –e.g. the need for rides to the polls, dependence on public transit, or reliance on scheduled transit for homebound or institutionalized individuals, language differences, work schedules, child care, physical challenges…The list goes on – talk with those who know the territory.
  • Share the resources within reach.  Start with the Office of the Secretary of State, a position currently held by Mark Ritchie, a voter advocate at heart and the individual ultimately responsible for implementing the process determined by the Legislature. Check out other resources including, but not limited to, Common Cause, ACLU of Minnesota, the Federal Elections Legal Network,  League of Women Voters of Minnesota and Jewish Community Action.
  • Tell the concerned to check out more proximate resources including the rich menu of programs and publications related to voter rights and sources of information and assistance.
  • Get creative – here the prize may go to MPIRG, the student activist group at the U of M that has proposed two incentives to student voters – that students get an excused absence to vote OR that the University declare Election Day a free day at the University.
  • If, in spite of the erstwhile efforts of concerned Minnesotans, the Voter ID amendment should get the voters’ nod, maintain the pace!   There is cold comfort in the reality that the devil is in the details, details to be crafted by the Legislature in the year to come. It’s not over till the last legislator signs – Keep up the pressure to defend the rights of every Minnesota citizen.