UMLC trumps Keith Ellison — twice

Triumphs vs the state bring hope for small businesses.

Minnesota congregations can rejoice about a big win over Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 emergency orders, while energy advocates scored a significant victory that will force Attorney General Keith Ellison to make documents public regarding climate change lawyers embedded in his office. And now small business owners have more reason to hope that they can someday celebrate as well.

The state settled with Northland Baptist Church and Living Word Christian Center after a federal judge refused to dismiss the case. No damages were paid. The churches simply wanted the state to respect their First Amendment rights and allow them to gather in person. Now all religious settings around the state must be treated the same way as grocery and retail outlets, as well as sports and entertainment venues.

The churches, represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center, are the first entities to defeat Walz and Ellison with regard to their “emergency” orders. About 50 others saw their cases dismissed. And it was Ellison’s second big loss in less than a month to the UMLC as the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with Energy Policy Advocates, a public interest group seeking transparency in nationwide energy policy.

The court mandated that the attorney general stop withholding data from the public by hiding behind broad and general claims of privilege. Ellison’s critics bash him for allowing outside special interests such as former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg to fund “climate warrior” lawyers in his office. It’s a hypocritical move when you consider Ellison bemoans the American Legislative Exchange Council’s lobbying legislators to pass pro-business policies — well within ALEC’s First Amendment rights.

The UMLC can now turn to the other half of its case that includes the churches: Fighting for small businesses — such as 18/8 Fine Men’s Salons in Wayzata and Maple Grove — who believe the differentiation between their work and that of the bigger corporations is arbitrary and unlawful.

UMLC Founder and President Doug Seaton is hoping the Federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will reinstate this case. And the outcome with the churches reinforces his faith that they can find victory here too.

“We already won half this case and now we’re going to go win the rest of it,” Seaton says.