Nothing may change
Millions of dollars have been spent to convince Minnesotans to vote one way or the other on the two proposed constitutional amendments but a Hamline professor on Thursday raised the possibility that regardless of the outcomes of the two votes nothing will change.
David Schultz, one of three guests who spoke on “Amending the Constitution,” theorized that the status quo could remain in place for both the marriage and the voter identification issues.
Addressing a crowd of about 20 people at the Gordon Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government, Schultz, a senior fellow at the Institute of Law and Politics at the University of Minnesota Law School, said that whether the marriage amendment is approved or defeated marriage will continue to be illegal in Minnesota. He said that if the voter ID amendment is adopted it will still require enabling legislation and unless Republicans capture two-thirds majorities in Minnesota’s House and Senate the Legislature would be unable to over-ride a likely veto by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
He also said it was possible, depending on how the yet-to-be-drafted voter ID legislation is written, the U.S. Justice Department may intervene if it feels military personnel are being disenfranchised.
“I can see this being litigated in the courts for years,” he said.
He estimated there have been expenditures of about $15 million on the marriage amendment and between $5 million and $7 million on the voter ID amendment.
“The federal government is very protective of the voting rights of people in the military,” Schultz said.
Also weighing in on the proposed amendments were Matt Gehring, an attorney and legislative analyst in the Research Department of the Minnesota House; and Mary Jane Morrison, a law professor at Hamline University.
The forum was designed as look at the processes used to amend the Constitution rather than a debate on the two issues but the two Hamline professors did speculate on the outcome of the two votes.
Schultz guessed both amendments would pass. He voiced a reluctance about enacting policy through constitutional amendments.
“I generally think we should be hesitant about tinkering with the Constitution,” he said.
Morrison said that based on the history of amendment votes in the past 25 years, she guessed they would pass. However she said she “had great hopes there are more intelligent people” and the amendments would be defeated.
Gehring, who works for the nonpartisan House Research Department, declined to speculate on the political outcome of the two amendments.
Describing his role in the forum as providing the “wonky academic background,” he noted in his presentation that in the last 30 years the ratification rate for proposed amendments had been very high, about 75 to 80 percent.
Morrison recounted the history of other amendments including ones that allowed women to first vote in school board elections and then later to vote in library board elections.
The two amendments that will be considered by voters on Election Day would be the 214th and 215th constitutional amendment votes. The professors said 213 that have been proposed, 120 have been adopted for a 56 percent success rate.
Schultz said the previous constitutional amendments have usually been used to expand rather than restrict rights.
Another question posed by the proposed amendments, Schultz said, is does the majority have the right to decide who gets to vote and who gets to marry whom?
Morrison said that once amendments are placed in the Constitution they tend to stay there a long time. She said that even though federal law gave all women the right to vote in 1920 the language of the Minnesota Constitution on that issue wouldn’t change until 1960.
“Once it’s there (in the Constitution) it’s hard to get out,” Morrison said.
Asked by an audience member why the marriage amendment was needed if gay marriage was already illegal in Minnesota, Schultz said proponents of the amendment note the current law could be repealed or overruled by a court. They want the current law to be permanent on this issue, he said.
He noted, however, that the views of the college students he teaches are much different from older adults and he speculated gay marriage would some day be made legal.
“This is not even an issue for them (the younger generation),” he said.