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More than $1 million sought in attorney fees for court case the state lost

Multiple wins in lower courts meant nothing after the country’s highest court ruled last summer against a more than 100 year old state law.

That decision also cost the state more than a million bucks.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky that state law prohibiting certain types of political apparel in a polling place on Election Day is unconstitutional. The law has been on the books since 1913.

Dan Rogan, Civil Division manager at the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, said that under federal law, plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorney fees if they win a civil rights challenge, such as one involving the First Amendment.

Sponsored by Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls), HF1428 would provide $1.3 million in the current fiscal year to cover those.

Approved Tuesday by the House State Government Finance Division, the bill’s next stop is the House Ways and Means Committee. Its companion, SF1917, awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), a former secretary of state, is the Senate sponsor.

Total money awarded the plaintiffs by various levels of courts is about $1.25 million. Interest has raised the total to about $1.29 million, Rogan said.

Secretary of State Steve Simon said if the amount allotted to meet the requirement is too much, the excess would revert back to the General Fund.

Rogan said the question before the court was if government has the right to regulate free speech inside a polling place and, if so, to what extent.

“Ultimately, the court, on a 7-2 decision, ruled that Minnesota’s law was unconstitutional,” he said. “The court concluded that while it was reasonable to prohibit some forms of advocacy in the polling place … it did determine that Minnesota’s prohibition on political material was not reasonable.”

Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R-Greenfield) suggested the requested money come from the secretary of state’s office budget.

“This is a case where the state of Minnesota was the defendant,” Simon said.


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