Minn. Court Strikes Down State Clause Disenfranchising Those Under Guardianship

A Minnesota probate court rules that language in the state's constitution that prohibits all people under guardianship from voting violates the United States Constitution and is therefore invalid.  In re Guardianship of Erickson (4th Jud. Dist. Ct., Minn., No. 27-GC-PR-09-57, Oct. 4, 2012).

Brian Erickson was placed under guardianship in 2009 because he suffers from schizophrenia and dysthymia with psychotic tendencies that make it difficult for him to perform many activities of daily living.  In July 2012, Mr. Erickson's guardian filed a petition with the Hennepin County Probate Court seeking a declaratory judgment clarifying that people under guardianship retain the right to vote unless a court order removes that right. 

The petition was filed because there is a conflict between Minnesota Statute 524.313, which states that "unless otherwise ordered by the court, the ward retains the right to vote," and Article VII of the state constitution, which explicitly states that all people under guardianship are not allowed to vote.  Mr. Erickson attempted to reconcile these two provisions by claiming that since the state constitution did not define guardianship, the legislature could "effectuate the constitutional mandates" by passing statutes that limited the state's ability to disenfranchise people under guardianship.

The Hennepin County District Court, Probate and Mental Health Division, rules that Mr. Erickson's statutory argument is inappropriate, but the court overturns the state constitutional provision because it violates the United States Constitution.  The court finds that the law is "not narrowly tailored to the degree necessary to pass federal constitutional muster," thus violating the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and that it also violates the Due Process Clause because "there is no uniform notice provided to proposed wards in Minnesota that their capacity to vote will be evaluated and their right to vote may be taken away if they are placed under a guardianship." 

For the full text of this decision, click here.

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