Rep. IIhan Omar (D., Minn.) lashed out at Hennepin County District Judge Jamie Anderson for blocking a ballot measure that would replace with Minneapolis Police Department with a new department of public safety. Omar alleged that Anderson was part of a “network” working to frustrate “progress.” Underlying this dispute is an interesting question of the court’s role on the ballot question and, while she is wrong in her attack on the court, Omar may have a legitimate objection if the ballot question is blocked despite revisions.
I have previously noted how Democrats are now increasingly attacking judges in the same way that former president Donald Trump did during his term. I have criticized both sides for such attacks.
In a town hall meeting on Tuesday in Minneapolis, Omar said that powerful figures were conspiring to spend big money and use their influence to block such measures:
“The leaders who are opposed to progress in this city are not nameless or faceless. Using your network to obstruct the kind of progress so many people in this city want and were looking forward to is not something that should go unnoticed…This ballot measure should be on the ballot. As you can tell, I’m pretty upset about it..
“We have people pouring in so much money to make us enslaved to a charter that the majority of us [oppose]. This is the opposite of what democracy should produce. The people had a vision for what they wanted, and there’s a judge, there’s a mayor, there is a police chief, and their monied friends who are telling us we can’t have a city that is flexible to our needs and to our demands. How else are we supposed to make progress if we can’t do that?”
The comments were directed first and foremost against Hennepin County District Judge Jamie Anderson on Tuesday who struck down Question 2 on the Minneapolis ballot for the Nov. 2 election after concluding that the wording was “unreasonable and misleading.”
The measure would replace the police department and allow the creation of a public safety alternative, “including licensed peace officers if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department.”
Anderson has repeatedly rejected language for the ballot. She held that “the Court finds that the Current Ballot Language is vague, ambiguous and incapable of implementation, and is insufficient to identify the amendment clearly.”
Here is the latest version approved by the city council:
Department of Public Safety
Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to remove the Police Department and replace it with a Department of Public Safety that employs a comprehensive public health approach to the delivery of functions by the Department of Public Safety, with those specific functions to be determined by the Mayor and City Council by ordinance; which will not be subject to exclusive mayoral power over its establishment, maintenance, and command; and which could include licensed peace officers (police officers), if necessary, to fulfill its responsibilities for public safety, with the general nature of the amendments being briefly indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?
This amendment would create a Department of Public Safety combining public safety functions through a comprehensive public health approach to be determined by the Mayor and Council. The department would be led by a Commissioner nominated by the Mayor and appointed by the Council. The Police Department, and its chief, would be removed from the City Charter. The Public Safety Department could include police officers, but the minimum funding requirement would be eliminated.
Even on the third attempt, it is still poorly crafted. However, I am not sure it is so confusing as to be blocked by the court. It clearly conveys that the replacement of the department and does acknowledge that the city may or may not include police officers. It also clearly states that it would reduce the power of the mayor.
While I do not agree with Omar’s attack on the court, she may have a point in objecting to the judicial block on the ballot question. This would seem an issue where the court should only act to block a political vote when the voters would be misled or misinformed. This is hardly the model of clarity but it does convey the essence of the proposal. There is a type of countermajoritarian danger in courts being too aggressive in blocking ballot questions.
The measure is an outgrowth of the local “defund the police” movement. Despite the criticism of the movement by many of us, the voters have a right to make such judgments on their own public safety and protection.