Minnesota appeals court protects felon voting rights after finding a lower court judge overstepped

A Minnesota appeals court on Thursday stepped in to protect voting rights recently granted to felons under a new law, undoing a judge's effort to strip two convicts of their right to vote.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals found Mille Lacs County District Judge Matthew Quinn had no authority to find the new law unconstitutional.

The law, which took effect in July, says people with felony convictions regain the right to vote after they have completed any prison term.

Quinn had said the law was unconstitutional in a pair of October orders in which he sentenced two offenders to probation, but warned them they are not eligible to vote or register to vote — even though the law says they are. It was an unusual step because nobody involved in those cases ever asked him to rule on the constitutionality of the law.

In his orders, Quinn concluded the Legislature’s passage of the law did not constitute the kind of “affirmative act” he said was needed to properly restore a felon’s civil rights. So he said he now has a duty going forward to “independently evaluate the voting capacity” of felons when they complete probation.

Quinn was reprimanded by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards two years ago for his public support of former President Donald Trump and his critical comments about President Joe Biden.