Libraries are united in the mission of providing accurate, relevant, and timely information for their patrons, a mission that has faced challenges in recent decades due to the rapid spread of misinformation online. Law libraries have encountered patrons with preconceived notions influenced by judicially unsupported legal arguments and obscure and questionable interpretations of law often promoted through conspiracy theories on the web. The most common example of this that I have encountered working in a law library is the sovereign citizen.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, members of the sovereign citizen movement “believe they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government and consider themselves exempt from U.S. law.” Individuals who claim to be sovereign citizens reference a wide variety of constitutional interpretations, governmental decisions, and historical agreements to claim they are exempt from everything from taxes to traffic laws. In an effort to have their cases dismissed, criminal trial defendants have claimed that being a sovereign citizen means the court has no jurisdiction over them. This argument was recently used in the highly publicized trial of Darrell Brooks. However, scholars have characterized this criminal defense argument as having no legal applicability.

Time and time again, defendants claiming sovereign citizenship have had their requests for dismissal rejected by the courts. Yet in answering legal reference questions from individuals facing criminal charges, my colleagues and I have frequently encountered patrons requesting information on sovereign citizenship. This experience in not unique to our library. In their 2021 annual report, the Minnesota State Law Library Services to Prisoners Program recorded receiving over 800 questions related to sovereignty from people incarcerated in Minnesota Department of Corrections facilities.

My coworkers at the Ramsey County Law Library and I have discussed how to answer these questions according to our dual responsibilities to neutrally answer every patron’s questions to the best of our ability and to provide the most accurate, relevant information to meet each patron’s need. Navigating these responsibilities proves difficult when a patron’s question originates from misinformation and conspiracy, so I have had to carefully consider my approach.

When encountering a conspiratorial ideology like the sovereign citizen movement, I try to understand what about this particular belief might appeal to an individual. The complexity of the legal system can be overwhelming, especially for people with no legal education or experience. Sovereign citizen ideology advertises a “golden ticket” out of this complexity by promising that once an individual asserts that a court has no authority over them, they will be free to go. Law library staff are in a unique position to combat the attractive simplicity in legal misinformation by connecting patrons with resources that explain legal processes and court procedures in plain language. Whatever information we can provide to demystify the legal system for the average person weakens the appeal of conspiracy theories, offering ways to navigate the system, instead of completely (and unsuccessfully) rejecting it.

In addition to investigating why a piece of misinformation may appeal to a patron, during difficult reference interactions, I emphasize my role as an educator, rather than an arbitrator of the truth. Public librarians have found success in addressing misinformed patrons by avoiding the immediate response of “that’s not true.” Instead, librarians guide the patron through a search for relevant information and instruct them on the information literacy tools needed to evaluate sources (I’m personally a fan of the C.R.A.A.P. test). The sovereign citizen movement, like many movements born of conspiracy theories, believes the government operates in secrecy to hide its illegitimate authority, so transparency in the search process and the source of information is vital in responding to these reference questions.

Instructing patrons in conducting their own searches and evaluating sources themselves is also key for law library staff upholding the boundary between legal advice and legal information. I cannot argue whether claiming to be a sovereign citizen will get an individual out of a traffic ticket or paying their taxes, but I can help a patron search case law to see how courts have previously ruled on this argument or help them find secondary sources where legal experts comment upon the applicability of such approaches.

My hope as an information professional is that I can develop trust with my patrons, making them feel heard even when I think they have been influenced by misinformation. I want to empower them to develop their research skills, so that when they make their own legal decisions, those decisions are based on the most accurate, relevant information available.

A few cases involving sovereign citizen arguments:

United States v. Benabe, 654 F.3d 753 (7th Cir. 2011)

Bey v. State, 847 F.3d 559 (7th Cir. 2017)

Gravatt v. United States, 100 Fed. Cl. 279 (2011)


Sarteschi, C. M. (2020). Sovereign Citizens: A Psychological and Criminological Analysis. Germany: Springer International Publishing.

Sarteschi C. M. (2020). Sovereign Citizens: A Narrative Review With Implications of Violence Towards Law Enforcement. Aggression and violent behavior, 101509. Advance online publication.


To acknowledge Women’s History Month, the law library wishes to note two significant achievements in Minnesota court history. The first was in 1991 when Minnesota was the first state in the nation to have a majority of women on its state supreme court.  The second achievement is happening now in 2021, when the state’s five appellate and executive courts now have women holding top positions.

In 1991, Governor Rudy Perpich appointed Sandra Gardebring to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  She joined three women on the court:  Justice Rosalie E. Wahl; Justice M. Jeanne Coyne; and Justice Esther M. Tomljanovich (see above photo).  With a seven-member court, the four women comprised a majority. While this majority wasn’t maintained continuously over the intervening years, the current Minnesota Supreme Court also has a majority of women:  Chief Justice Lorie Gildea; Justice Margaret H. Chutich; Justice Natalie Hudson; and Justice Anne K. McKeig (see photo below).

Minnesota State Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea was recently joined by Judge Wendy S. Tien in a chief judge role.  Chief Judge Tien leads the Minnesota Tax Court, effective March 17. However, other chief judges have been selected over the years to lead various courts.  Now the state’s five appellate and executive courts are all led by women. They include:  Court of Appeals Chief Judge Susan Segal; Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings Chief Judge Jenny Starr; and Minnesota Worker’s Compensation Court of Appeals Chief Judge Patricia Milun.


Find accurate information at the law library.

Computers and books coexisting in the Ramsey County Law Library
Computers and books are a few examples of the resources at the law library.

Are you concerned or confused about information spread through social media?  If so, remember that you can contact a public law library for accurate legal information and authoritative resources. 

Public law libraries have staff who are experts at finding accurate, legal information.  Public law libraries are open to everyone – you don’t have to be a lawyer, law student, or judge to use the public law library.  We have access to a variety of print and online resources, and they are available to all library users. 

That means, if you have questions about the Governor’s Executive Order about masks, or you want to know about the CDC’s order regarding evictions, or if you are interested in knowing what happens when a candidate dies before an election, or are looking for recent laws passed by the legislature regarding financial relief for Minnesota businesses, visit your public law library. 

Moreover, law librarians can help you evaluate information to determine if it comes from an authoritative source, if it has been authenticated, or if it is an official legal document.  Law librarians can also make sure you are using the most current information available.

Don’t be confused by disinformation from questionable websites.  You have a right to access government information, including access to the basic materials necessary for legal research.   Visit your local public law library and be informed!


Due to the Governor’s order 20-99 and Chief Justice Gildea’s order to limit in-person activity in Court facilities, the law library is implementing temporary guidelines to maintain a safe environment for everyone. 

  • Only 5 patrons are permitted in the library at one time.  Patrons must wear masks. 
  • All patrons must sign in and indicate their time of arrival.
  • One-on-one assistance is limited due to social distancing requirements.  Please be prepared to work independently.
  • Patrons needing a library computer will be assigned one of three available computers.
  • There is a one-hour limit for computer use, or thirty minutes if others are waiting.
  • Patrons not needing computers may use a table for one hour.
  • Library staff will retrieve needed print items for you.  Please leave print materials on the table as they need to be quarantined after your use.
  • Patrons must use the law library for legal research purposes.  General Internet searching, YouTube, or social media access is not considered legal research.  If library staff observe that you are not doing legal research, you will be asked to leave the library.

The library will continue to schedule Housing/Conciliation Court Clinic and the Criminal Law Clinic appointments for phone consultations.  Please call 651-266-8391 to set up an appointment.

These restrictions are effective November 30, 2020 to February 1, 2021 and are reflective of library restrictions in the metro area, pursuant to the Governor’s order and the order of the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court regarding the pandemic.  Other law library policies and procedures remain in effect.

Stay safe everyone!


Nellie Francis and the right to vote

Picture of Nellie Francis

Nellie Francis, photo courtesy of The Appeal newspaper, via, circa 1921


Please join us (virtually) for a CLE to learn about Nellie Francis, a key activist in the suffragist movement in Minnesota.  Dr. William D. Green of Augsburg University will speak on her remarkable life and achievements.

Thursday, October 1, 2020
12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
1.0 Elimination of Bias Credit
FREE for all attendees
This event is virtual only.

Ms. Francis was born in Nashville in 1874 and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota with her family when she was 11.  She was interested in civil rights at an early age, and won a high school speech contest when she spoke on the topic of  “the race problem,” which she described as one that existed entirely in the minds of white Americans.  After graduation, she was heavily involved with her community, as she was an excellent vocalist and sang in the community, was a teacher at her church, and helped get money for a new organ for the church from Andrew Carnegie.  In addition, she was very active in promoting the civil rights of African Americans and had met many prominent Black leaders, such as W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington.

To learn about her activities relating to women’s suffrage, please register for the CLE this Thursday.

Registration information at the Ramsey County Bar Association CLE Calendar.  A flyer about the program is located here.





Need help paying rent? Fund$ are available!

Neighborhood House

Landlords, are you struggling because your tenants can’t pay?

Tenants, are you worried about how to pay your rent when jobs are scarce?

Ramsey County residents, if you have been impacted the pandemic and are having problems paying your rent, please know that there is financial help available to you!   Neighborhood House, in conjunction with Ramsey County, connects renters to funding sources so that tenants can stay current with their monthly payments.  There is still plenty of money available.

For information, contact Shellie Rowe at Neighborhood House at 651-789-3689 or



Critical Race Theory

Three new books on Critical Race theory have been added to the Ramsey County Law Library.

Three new books on Critical Race theory have been added to the Ramsey County Law Library.

Critical Race Theory (or CRT) is defined by Britannica as “the view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of colour.”

This week’s blog features two books about CRT.  They are scholarly works that offer a deep dive into the topic.  These rigorous studies of CRT provide a “radical and challenging perspective that reveals how racism shapes the everyday reality of the world; from law courts and prisons, to the economy, schools, media, and health care.” (David Gillborn, Professor, University of Birmingham, UK)

Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, (New York University Press, 2017), describes CRT as comprising activists and scholars who question the foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory and neutral principles of constitutional law.  Seen as fostering a movement, CRT builds on previous movements (critical legal studies and radical feminism). The book gives an introductory overview that includes criticism from both the left and the right.

Another book that the law library has on CRT is called Race and Racialization: Essential Readings.  The second edition of this title was published in 2018 and is a collection of scholarly essays describing race and how racial tensions intersect with gender, economic status, ethnicity, and sexuality.  The essays are not limited to views from the United States, and in fact, many of the pieces describe these issues occurring in Canada and other countries to show that difficulties with racism are not unique to the United States.

The book is organized by sections, each dealing with a different perspective on racism: colonialism, institutional racism, ethnocentrism, privilege, marginalization, and resistance.  The essays span decades of research and discussion on race.  The first essay in the book, which proposes that racism is not biologically inherent in people but is a learned behavior, was written in 1931.  The essays at the end of the book are much more current as the last essay examines the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement in Toronto.

This week’s blog also features a scholarly work that examines the philosophy of race and race as phenomena.  Race as Phenomena: Between Phenomenology and Philosophy of Race is edited by Emily S. Lee (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).  The book is a collection of intellectual, well-researched essays that are written by important contributors to the field.  The essays “examine persistent questions within philosophy of race, from how to conceptualize race to the lived experience of blackness and whiteness.”  (Introduction)  The work includes essays that describe race consciousness as phenomenologically understood, the black body and the phenomenology of being stopped, and seeing like a cop.

These books are available at the Ramsey County Law Library.

Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory (Third Edition): An Introduction, New York: NYU Press, 2017.

Race and Racialization:  Essential Readings, 2nd Edition, Tania Das Gupta, Carl E James, Chris Andersen eds., Toronto: Canadian Scholars, 2018.

Race as Phenomena: Between Phenomenology and Philosophy of Race, Emily S. Lee, ed., Rowman & Littlefield, 2019.





Although the law library is closed to the public, we still want to celebrate National Library Week with our annual book raffle. During our closure, volunteer attorneys continue to provide housing, conciliation, and criminal defense clinics via phone. As a small token of appreciation, the library raffled off 2 books–each going to one of our prize-winning volunteers. The library continues to provide email and phone reference and curbside book pickup for attorneys. Please call the library at 651-266-8391 for more information.

This year, we have two excellent books, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  Just Mercy is the memoir of Bryan Stevenson, civil rights attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in Montgomery, Alabama.  Mr. Stevenson has argued and won many cases, including a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that bans mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger.  His book was recently adapted into a major motion picture.

Astronuts  by Jon Scieszka is the second book in our giveaway.  Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca) is an award-winning children’s book author, and has sold over 11 million books worldwide.  Astronuts is the start of a new series for children, and is illustrated by Steven Weinberg.  Mr. Weinberg was inspired by the art made available by The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  The Rijksmuseum has digitized and made their entire collection available to the world with no copyright restrictions.

We hope you are all reading interesting books and are staying safe during this time.





We’re still here to answer your questions!



Photo by Aleix Ventayol on Unsplash

While the state is under the Governor’s Stay at Home order, the law library is still available to help you with your legal research questions. The physical space is closed, and staff is working from home, but there are still many ways that we can help you:

Phone Reference: We are able to take calls between 8:00-4:30, Monday through Friday. We have access to some resources at home, including Westlaw, and are happy to answer your questions. We can also provide referrals to legal aid and other places for lawyer referrals. Remember, legal services are considered to be an essential service.  Please call us at 651.266.8391.

Email Reference: Our email is, and we are also monitoring that and answering questions as they come in.

Referrals: We can also provide referrals to legal aid, bar associations, and other organizations for lawyer referrals. Remember, legal services are considered to be an essential service. Many attorneys are still working and taking calls, even they are not at the office.

Clinics: Our Housing and Conciliation Court Clinic is on Tuesdays, and our volunteer attorneys are still available to talk to clients by phone. If you call 651-266-8391 on Tuesday after 12:30, we will set up an appointment for you to speak to one of the clinic attorneys.

Our Criminal Defense Law Clinic is also available to talk to law librarian patrons. Please call the law library on the first and third Thursday of the month, and a librarian will schedule an appointment for you.  651.226.8391.

Our Criminal Expungement Clinic is temporarily closed, but watch this space and we’ll let you know when it is up and running again.  However, the Volunteer Lawyers Network is available to answer your expungement questions.  See what they can offer on their website.

Hang in there, everyone.


Criminal Law and Procedure volumes of Minnesota Practice.

Criminal Law and Procedure volumes of Minnesota Practice.


We have some good news to share!  The Ramsey County Law Library is now hosting a criminal defense law clinic on the first and third Thursdays of each month.  The clinic was officially approved by the Law Library Board of Trustees at its December meeting.

The clinic is held in the law library, and attorneys start seeing clients at 1:00.  At the clinic, people can spend up to a half an hour with a criminal defense attorney to get advice about any kind of Minnesota criminal issue.

Clients interested in talking with an attorney just need to show up to the library.  Everyone is seen on a first-come, first-served basis.  Just sign in at the reference desk, and library staff will escort you to the attorney when it is your turn.  Clients will receive up to half an hour consultation with the attorney.

The clinic started in November with volunteer attorneys coming in and serving clients, though the clinic was not widely publicized.  Through word of mouth advertising and publicity by court staff, a few people found their way up to the law library and the clinic.  As the clinic is open to all Minnesota residents, volunteer attorney Steven Coodin encourages people to come to the law library if they have questions.  “Everyone has the right to counsel so come and see us!”

The clinic is open to any Minnesota resident with a criminal law issue relating to Minnesota state law.  There are no residential or income restrictions.  However, if you are represented by a private attorney or a public defender, you unfortunately cannot come to the clinic.

For more information, please contact the Ramsey County Law Library at 651-266-8391.