Minnesota Capitol from Ramsey County Law Library

The Minnesota Capitol is visible from the law library

Last weekend the Minnesota Capitol hosted its open house to celebrate its recent extensive renovation and remodel project yet some might be surprised that the 112 year old building is actually Minnesota’s third capitol.  The history and timeframe of Minnesota’s capitols has some interesting parallels to the history of the Ramsey County courthouses. Each has had three buildings, with the present ones standing apart from the rest for their architectural significance and their longetivity. Similarly, their second buildings are both noteworthy for their short lifespans due to dissatisfaction of their users.  You might recall that Minnesota’s original capitol burned to the ground in 1881.  Built in 1854, it had become a patchwork of expansions by the end of its 27-year life.  The second capitol is the one probably most forgotten, for it served in its original capacity for a rather short time. Indeed, the state began planning the third capital in 1893, only ten years after the second one was dedicated.  The third-and-present capitol was completed and occupied in 1905, leaving the second vacated after just 22 years.  Ironically, this second building served another thirty-plus years as meeting space, storage, and parking until its demolition in 1937. This story of short-lived usefulness is similar to the second Ramsey County courthouse, which at least managed to serve its original function for 43 years before it was replaced and demolished.

Why such a short lifetime for a state capitol?  Granted, it had been hastily built, what with the need to replace what had been lost in the fire. The budget for the new capitol was also very lean and strict, with a misdemeanor penalty for exceeding the budget. (Never mind whether or not the finished project would last through the next generation.) Apparently, it was the faulty ventilation that led the push to replace this nearly-new building so shortly after its construction.  It was also postulated that the second capitol was insufficient in that it was little more than a “glorified county courthouse,” and inadequate to represent the grand state that many Minnesotans felt their state was becoming. (Decide for yourself if the capitol then looked like the county courthouse  located down the street.)

Minnesota’s trial-and-error history of building a capitol that could function and inspire through the ages is all the more reason to celebrate this recent renovation project.  If you missed the festivities, you can always take a tour or check out the excellent restoration photos.  Alternatively, track down the new book Our Minnesota State Capitol by Denis P. Gardner.

 

Legislative Chapter 184 from 1949You might have missed it, but county law libraries made a surprise appearance in the Minnesota legislative session this spring.  You can read the original Senate File 1113 here, which would have allowed for the diversion of county law library funds for construction of a courthouse.  This legislation passed both the Senate and the House, but was vetoed by Governor Dayton.  But bills  concerning county law libraries could always come up again at the capitol.

Without examining now-vetoed bill, this occurrence presents an opportunity to consider some history behind county law libraries in Minnesota. Their modern incarnation formally came into existence with what became Minnesota Statute §134A.  You can read in the 1949 Session Laws wherein the Legislature laid out the specifics for the establishment, operation, and function of county law libraries.  This original text reveals that amazingly little has changed to the county law library statute over the years, such as which sectors must be represented on governing boards, how funding is to be provided, and who must be allowed to use the libraries.  Keep in mind that this was all back in 1949, predating modern “access to justice” efforts.  Of course, what might have been casually called a ”county law library” existed in Minnesota prior to this statute, often growing from local bar association libraries.  (This was how the Hennepin County Law Library got its start way back in 1883.)  But the original statute overwhelmingly set the standards for our modern county law libraries.

Today you can find county law libraries throughout the state, and this brochure from the Minnesota Coalition of County Law Libraries (MCCLL) lists those which offer professional staff to assist users.  But history-wise, its not easy to determine when Minnesota’s various county law libraries come to be.  Public law libraries existed in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Duluth back in 1955, as evidenced in this article in the Law Library Journal about the founding of the Minnesota Association of Law Libraries (MALL).  Since this sort of historical information can be elusive, we would like to know more about the history of your county law library (including this library).  If you have any such  inside knowledge, please share it with us.  And- if you have found the services and resources of your county law library helpful, by all means tell your legislator!

 

This Week is National Library Week!

NLW

This week the Ramsey County Law Library joins with libraries all across the nation in celebrating National Library Week. The purpose of this event is to celebrate the contributions of libraries and librarians everywhere, as well as to promote library use and support. National Library Week is a brainchild of the American Library Association (ALA), and our library is committed to the principles established in the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights.

Please come visit our library this week. Besides picking up a free pocket Constitution, you can register to win one of these three excellent legally-inspired books (links below)  We will draw the winners at the end of the day Friday (April 14), so register win this week!

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Hillbilly Eulegy by J.D. Vance

 

Police officer writes traffic citationWe are proud of our local involvement with local criminal expungement resources, but expungement is not the last word in ”second chances.” For instance, you may have recently watched HBO’s Rock and a Hard Place, a documentary about Miami-Dade County offenders facing long prison sentences who get the chance to participate in a 16-week bootcamp-style regimen instead.  Each of the cadets on this show has been given a choice by their judge: incarceration or rehabilitation. From crew-cuts to pushups, this correction program is modeled on a tough, military-style code of discipline and order, which later includes anger-management instruction and vocational skills training. Creator Dwayne Johnson based this documentary on his own run-ins with the law as a youth.  See this excellent review of the show.

We are sometimes asked if Minnesota has such a boot camp-inspired penal model, and he answer is yes! Minnesota’s Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) provides a similar military-style boot camp experience for offenders, which can potentially shave years from total time to be served.  Unlike the Miami model, the state Commissioner of Corrections selects these offenders, not all of which are eligible.   A 2006 evaluation showed Minnesota’ CIP to reduce an offender’s chance of reoffending with a new crime by 35%, and also to have reduced costs by over $18 million.

A similar but simpler “second chance” program was featured in last week’s news, this one meant for those with suspended drivers licenses due to unpaid tickets. In these cases, the offenders cannot afford to pay their traffic tickets, which leads to revocation or suspension of licenses. Faced with the choice of not being able to get to work or driving illegally in order to put food on the table, many offenders predictably choose the latter.  This Driver Diversion Pilot Program allows offenders to take special driving classes and schedule a payoff for their fines. In return they get their drivers license and insurance reinstated. This pilot program was launched by the legislature for selected cities in 2008, and there is currently a movement to get this program statewide and permanent. The hope is to keep a single traffic infraction from being the factor that ultimately pulls a person down to the point that they no longer have a job and now have a court record to hold them back. This kind of downward spiral is a significant problem, and was considered a major source of the tension behind the Ferguson riots.

 

For Women’s History Month, let’s consider an oddly sexist chapter in our local past. As this blog has pointed out before, our state and community have not always been so progressive and forward-thinking as we may like to think.  In this particular chapter, the St. Paul City Council had passed Ordinance No. 8604 back in 1945, which prohibited women (except licensees, wives, or managers if the licensee was serving in the military) from working as bartenders.  (One can only speculate as to the council’s motives, but V-E Day had been declared only three days earlier.)  Clara Anderson had worked as a bartender at the Frederic Hotel in St. Paul for nine years, but was barred from continuing due to this ordinance.  Ramsey District Court Judge Carlton McNally denied her request for a temporary injunction to delay operation of the ordinance, which Ms. Anderson claimed was unconstitutionally discriminatory.  In the resulting case of Anderson v. City of St. Paul et al., the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the ordinance in a tight 4-3 decision The Court noted that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously held that selling intoxicating liquor for beverage purposes was not a right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.  But it also applied the standard Fourteenth Amendment equal protection litmus test for discrimination, holding that the council need only meet the standard of having a “rational basis” in making its gender-based distinction, and that it had so met this need.

This case illustrates an earlier interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment and its equal protection clause where gender is concerned. The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t establish a heightened scrutiny standard against gender discrimination until Craig v. Boren, wherein the Court struck down an Oklahoma statute allowing 18 year-old women to purchase 3.2 beer, but not 18 year-old men.  Offending Ordinance No. 8604 has since been stricken from the books, for St. Paul Ordinance Sec. 183.01 now declares that “…[t]he public policy of Saint Paul is to foster equal opportunity for all to obtain employment, education, real property, public accommodations, public services, contract and franchise without regard to their race, creed, religion, sex, sexual or affectional orientation, color, national origin, ancestry, familial status, age, disability, marital status or status with regard to public assistance, and strictly in accord with their individual merits as human beings.”

Attorney Don Lewis

Attorney Don Lewis

The American Bar Association has designated “The Fourteenth Amendment: Transforming American Democracy” as this year’s Law Day theme.  At this time we are pleased to announce that our own Law Day CLE event will take place on May 4 at 3:00 PM here in the Court House in partnership with the Ramsey County Bar Association (RCBA)We are extra-pleased to announce that Minneapolis attorney Don Lewis will speak on Equal Protection of the Laws: The Journey from Jim Crow to Gay Marriage.  Mr. Lewis is no stranger to the Second Judicial District, having grown up in St. Paul and recently serving as a special prosecutor for the Ramsey County Attorney’s office.  Visit the RCBA website for more information, then mark your calendars for this engaging event!

 

Homeless woman and shopping cartThis week brought the sad news that despite improvements in the rest of the metro area, poverty rates in Ramsey County and St. Paul have been rising.  Specifically, “[s]lightly more than 40 percent of St. Paul residents live within 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold, earning less than $44,875 for a family of four in the period studied (2011 to 2015),” an increase from 38.7 percent in the previous five-year period.  This report comes from the Metropolitan Council, and is available online.  And yet this news report on local poverty levels is not surprising next to last year’s news that homelessness was also rising in Ramsey County

Poverty and homelessness are large and overlapping problems without easy solutions, both for the community and for affected individuals.  But there is at least a local tool that can assist those seeking emergency shelter.  Ramsey County Coordinated Access to Housing and Shelter (CAHS) provides housing services and support for Ramsey County families, single adults and unaccompanied youth who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless.   With CAHS, families seeking emergency shelter and supportive housing in Ramsey County no longer need to contact every shelter and housing provider for openings.   Rather, by completing a CAHS assessment, homeless families and individuals can get direct assistance in finding an available emergency shelter.  Access CAHS by calling United Way 2-1-1, and they can help you get the most appropriate referral for housing program support based upon the needs of your family.  In addition, if you are a Ramsey County resident facing eviction due to a legal issue with your landlord, our Tuesday afternoon legal clinic is available for you! 

 

 

boy looking at flagYou may have caught the recent story of nearly 900 immigrants who recently became American citizens in a St. Paul ceremony.  One particular immigrant-cum-citizen had recently been affected by President Trump’s new executive order regarding immigrant travel that had temporarily kept her from returning to Minnesota.   The controversial  order has since been put on judicial hold, but none of these brand-new citizens will have to be concerned with it when making future travel plans. This story illustrates that where citizenship is concerned, it is obviously easier to be born a citizen per the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause than it is to obtain such status later in life.

This citizenship distinction wasn’t always so clear.   The elusive but pivotal Supreme Court case United States v. Wong Kim Ark was decided in 1898, only two years after Plessy v. Ferguson.  In said case, Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873 in San Francisco to Chinese immigrant parents. His parents later returned to their homeland, but Ark remained in San Francisco, occasionally traveling to China to visit his folks. It was only on his return home from such a visit in 1895 that he was detained by border officials and not allowed back in.  This was due to strict enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act under which he was not considered a citizen. Ark contested his exclusion, asserting that he was in fact a citizen and thus the Act did not apply to him. The end decision was the literal and absolute interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s opening clause, “[A]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

President Trump has called for an end to what he calls “birthright citizenship,” which is at odds with the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment.   This year’s ABA Law Day theme happens to be [T]he Fourteenth Amendment: Transforming American Democracy. Beyond just the citizenship clause, expect to hear more about the Fourteenth Amendment and our planned Law Day celebration in weeks to come.

 

police officer sidearmJust recently law enforcement in our tiny jurisdiction has come more visible than usual.  Obviously police officers are in the news every time a major criminal act in our community is investigated or a suspect is apprehended.   But this week the headlines went further, capturing a public meeting wherein citizens weighed in on potential changes to the St. Paul Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission.  This 20-year old commission reviews complaints against police and makes disciplinary recommendations to the chief. It has always consisted of two officers and five civilians, but several meeting participants expressed their point of view that officers don’t belong on this commission. This debate is all the more significant given the fact that St. Paul Police began wearing body cameras only last week.

Also significant was this week’s announcement from Ramsey County Attorney John Choi that criminal manslaughter charges were being brought against Falcon Heights police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile, which made national news. You can read Choi’s press conference transcript from his announcement and the complaint at the County Attorney’s website.

There is not much this blog can add to these events that isn’t already covered.  However, this is a good place to bring up some of the special resources that our library has regarding law as it pertains to police officers and police misconduct.  If this is something you are researching or plan to, we have some tools that might help:

  • Will Aitchison, The Rights of Law Enforcement Officers (7th Ed. 2015)
  • Michael Avery et al.  Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation (3d Ed. 2015)
  • Isidore Silver,  Police Civil Liability (1986- )

We also have plenty of criminal law materials that explore the constitutional parameters in which police officers do their jobs. Be aware that many of the police civil liability materials are library-use only, so set aside some time to visit our library!

 

Voter Fraud vs. Voter Disenfranchisement

BallotsVoter eligibility and disenfranchisement is a subject this blog has looked at before, especially as it relates to felons. Different states have different levels of participation allowed by felons, with Minnesota falling somewhere in the middle by allowing felons to vote again after completing their entire sentence including probation.  With this limitation in mind, Minnesota Statute §204C.12 states that election judges must give ballots to voters who have been challenged as ineligible to vote, but who self-certify that they are in fact eligible. Recent local news presents the scenario where the polling roster might have someone marked as challenged due to status as a felon, as well as ward of the state, or non-citizen status. If the potential voter certifies that they are none of those things, election judges are being told that they should allow the person to vote.

In a case currently filed in the Second Judicial District, the Minnesota Voter Alliance asserts that the polling roster should be taken as the final word, and that the election judges should not be allowed to override it by letting the person vote.   They have encouraged election judges to refuse to follow the rule, claiming there is more election fraud in Minnesota than is officially acknowledged.  The Minnesota Secretary of State’s office says that refusing to apply the rule is not an option, and that only a court has the authority to challenge the statute. (See how the Secretary of State’s 2016 Election Judge Guide explains how the situation should be handled.) In the delicate operation of conducting democratically sound elections, election fraud and voter disenfranchisement are the two opposite sides of the same coin. State officials have asserted that the danger of election fraud is minimal.  Other groups assert that the real danger is not fraud, but voter suppression.  A judge will rule on this issue today (Friday), at least for purposes of the upcoming election.  It could easily find its way to the Court of Appeals or the Minnesota Legislature, especially if there are close election results.

 

Image - U.S. Supreme CourtMinnesota came into focus last week as part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.  Specifically, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras was part of a short list of potential U.S. Supreme Court appointees that Mr. Trump might pick if he were to be elected.  (Like the late Justice Rosalie Wahl, Stras has his beginnings in Kansas.)  A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law, Justice Stras clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  Before then he held other clerkships and also practiced white collar criminal and appellate law in the firm of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.  He became an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School in 2004, which he held until his appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court by Governor Tim Pawlenty on July 1, 2010.  He was a popular professor at the “U”, as is reflected in the University of Minnesota Law Review’s tribute to Justice Stras.

In its recent article, the Minnesota Lawyer pointed out that Mr. Trump may be employing political strategy with his short list. (In fairness, what isn’t political when you are running for president?) All the names on his list are not only conservative thinkers in the judicial realm, but also hail from the Midwest.  Mr. Trump’s election game will likely depend on appealing to Midwestern states.  (“Conservative” can be a rather circumstantial concept where justices are concerned.  Stras dissented with Justice Alan Page in the headliner DWI case of State v. Bernard, now awaiting its final fate at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.)   Stras was previously named in this blog as the author of this fascinating historical article on Minnesota’s first U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Pierce Butler.  Stras may not have a long judicial record to his name, but check out some of these other articles to learn more about his analytical approach:

Of course, being on a presidential candidate’s short list of possible appointees is not a sure route to the nation’s highest bench.  Not even being an official appointee of a sitting president to an actual vacancy is a sure thing, as Merrick Garland can attest.