|ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled August 27 that two elected state officials overstepped their authority in replacing the legislature’s ballot title for a proposed marriage amendment with an inaccurate title. Both officials publicly opposed defining marriage as one man and one woman in the state constitution.
Alliance Defending Freedom and ActRight Legal Foundation attorneys represented numerous state legislators and the committee supporting passage of the amendment in a legal challenge to the faulty ballot title.
Supporters of the marriage amendment who opposed Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s rewritten titles said the Democratic secretary of state wrote titles designed to produce votes against the amendment, which he opposes.
ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence, who argued before the high court last month, expressed that Minnesotans deserve to have free and fair elections, and they deserve to know precisely what they are voting for.
“Because the Legislature wrote a ballot title for the marriage amendment, no official in the executive branch has any authority to replace or modify that title — especially not with one that incorrectly describes the amendment’s effect,” Lorence explained.
“Voters have the right to know that the amendment is designed to protect the ‘recognition of marriage solely between one man and one woman,’ as the legislature accurately specified. The court has done the right thing in restoring that language to the ballot,” said Lorence.
The Minnesota Legislature wrote the ballot title for the amendment, as the state constitution empowers it to do, but Ritchie later changed the ballot title to describe the intention of the amendment as “limiting the status of marriage to opposite sex couples,” saying that his language was consistent with Attorney General Lori Swanson’s chosen statement of purpose and effect.
ADF and ActRight attorneys argued that neither official has the authority to override the Legislature’s title.
“Allowing the Secretary of State, an Executive Branch Officer with no constitutional authority over the form and manner of proposed constitutional amendments, to simply ignore the Legislature’s action in proposing and passing a title to accompany a ballot question on a constitutional amendment potentially risks interfering with the Legislature’s constitutional authority…” the Minnesota Supreme Court wrote in its opinion.
The court ruled that the Secretary of State exceeded his authority…when he provided titles for the ballot questions different from those passed by the Legislature.
“Based on our construction of (state law), we hold that the secretary of state erred and exceeded his authority when he provided titles for the ballot questions on the proposed marriage and voter identification amendments different from the titles chosen by the Legislature,” wrote the Justices. “Instead, the appropriate titles the secretary of state must provide are the titles passed by the Legislature.”
Ritchie has been ordered by the court to restore the original wording on the amendment to “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.”