MN Supreme Court ends Walz’s attempt to control pardon board

The Minnesota Board of Pardons has always required the unanimous agreement of the governor, attorney general, and chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court to consider a convicted criminal’s application for a possible pardon. It’s worked that way for 125 years until Governor Tim Walz’s attempted power grab aimed at effectively taking control of the pardon board as part of his agenda to politicize public safety issues.

But it’s Walz who should be seeking the pardon of dozens of ex-cons whose clemency applications were held up for months while the governor’s legal ploy played out, only to be firmly rejected upon reaching the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The high court didn’t waste any time putting the governor in his place, ruling the day after oral arguments according to the Star Tribune.

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the law requiring unanimous approval by the state’s Board of Pardons is constitutional, dealing a major blow to Gov. Tim Walz’s efforts to reshape how pardons are granted.

Walz had sought the ability to grant pardons with only one additional member of the board — on which he serves, along with the attorney general and chief justice — rather than needing a 3-0 vote to approve pardon applications.

The court’s ruling prevents Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison from teaming up to recommend controversial candidates that would otherwise be unlikely to be considered for a pardon. In fact, such a case led Walz to challenge the system in the first place.

Walz had sided with a lawsuit filed by a woman who unsuccessfully sought a pardon for a manslaughter sentence she served for killing her husband after she said he stabbed and raped her. Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison voted to grant Amrey Shefa’s request to be pardoned, but Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea did not agree.

Shefa has said that she also fears deportation back to Ethiopia, where she believes she will be killed by her husband’s family out of revenge.

Walz’s challenge to the law put all such requests on hold for months as the case moved through the courts. When Walz tried to put the onus for the delay on Gildea, the chief justice called his bluff.

Gildea recused herself from the case because of her role on the board and as a party to the lawsuit. Gildea and Walz have been at odds over whether the board could still meet while this case was pending.

The chief justice in June told Walz that the board had no choice but to postpone its first scheduled meeting to consider a batch of 34 applications until the constitutional question over the board’s statute was resolved by the courts. Walz responded that he was “disappointed” upon learning that Gildea was “refusing” to attend the meeting.

Walz has approached state lawmakers about tackling his proposed changes. But there appears to be little interest at this point. Meantime, the dozens of convicts whose pardon requests have been held up will finally see their applications reviewed in November, months late thanks to Walz’s failed power grab.