Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, takes part in discussions during Thursday joint committee hearing. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)


This week’s topics: Public safety politics; stumping justices; time out!


Welcome to Session/Law Sound-off, the weekly current events quiz where we approach smart folks from across the political spectrum and they tell us what’s on their minds. Their views are entirely their own.


Pete Orput, Rob Doar, Ron Latz, Nick Zerwas, Mike Frieberg

This week’s Sounding Board includes Pete Orput, Rob Doar, Ron Latz, Nick Zerwas and Mike Freiberg.


Query 1: Senate Judiciary and Transportation met jointly Thursday to hear law enforcement officials testify that crime is up, police ranks are thinned, prosecutions are lacking and political support is in the tank. Not surprisingly, cops want tougher penalties and freer rein to perform traffic stops, among other things. Politics clearly are in play here for these GOP-led committees. Is it smart politics?

Pete Orput, Washington County Attorney: Full disclosure. I was invited to testify, but I couldn’t. I had a court hearing. And I wasn’t truly interested in it, either, because I didn’t want to get involved in the politics. I happen to agree that crime is up. I would disagree strongly that prosecutors are not doing their jobs. I think the frustration is, we haven’t been able to try cases for 18 months and the backlog is absolutely incredible. It’s a bottleneck that looks like trying to land at O’Hare airport.

Sen. Ron Latz

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, takes part in discussions during Thursday’s joint committee hearing. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)

Rob Doar, political director, Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus: I think if you look at the areas where the GOP needs to pick up seats, the public safety message is probably their best angle on their best strategy. I figure it’s absolutely politics at play and probably some smart politics, at that.

Ron Latz, attorney, DFL state senator: [Chuckles.] I think it depends on which communities they’re targeting. Yeah, they’re probably smart politics. But it makes for really bad public discourse on a really important issue. It contributes to the cynicism that [police] are complaining about. The police officers, the testifiers today, reinforced that point. Because even though the chair [Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove] wanted to limit testimony to law enforcement professionals, they testified that they need more support beyond uniformed officers in order to create the public safety in their communities. So they actually made our point pretty well.

Nick Zerwas, lobbyist, former GOP House member: Politics and policy-wise, it’s unbelievably smart to highlight the recent failings of state and city leaders and county attorneys. There’s a failure to support basic law and order, whether it’s unilaterally deciding that some laws aren’t going to be worth arresting people or holding people over, or the idea that violent felons should be released from jail with no bail in kind of a revolving door of criminal justice. Morale for all involved in law enforcement is at a historical low and without significant changes in support and meaningful policy, I don’t see how police departments climb out of this. They are hemorrhaging right now. 

Mike Freiberg, attorney, DFL House member: I completely agree that politics are the driving factor here and I’m assuming that will be a recurring theme in Republican-leaning election ads throughout the next year. So it’s certainly consistent. From a policy standpoint, I don’t think it’s the right approach. I do think that there needs to be some limitations on the ability to stop people for minor offenses, or at least some guardrails about how those proceed. Because I think they have been used a lot to target people unfairly, based on factors beyond addressing crime.


Credit: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

U.S. Supreme Court {Photo: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Query 2: Just before the U.S. Supreme Court started what could be a white-hot term, several members decided the time was right to take to the stump. Justice Samuel Alito beat up on the media over criticism of the courts. Justice Sonya Sotomayor warned an audience that “disappointment in the law” is coming. Justices keep insisting their institution is apolitical. Do you believe that?

Orput: I think the Supreme Court amply demonstrated that it was nothing other than a political being back in 2000 with the Bush-Gore election. That was so blatantly political. And they’ve made political decisions ever since. I could name several of them, mostly led by [former Justice Antonin] Scalia.

Doar: You know, I don’t think it’s possible for any branch of government to be apolitical. I think the justices strive to have that appearance, but I think the more political decisions that we keep throwing at the Supreme Court, the more politically charged the messaging is going to be. I’ll add into that, too, that there’s just been a huge surge in emergency reviews—the “shadow docket” type cases. And as we keep looking at the court to settle those political battles, it’s only putting the justices in a tougher spot.

Latz: No. The institution would be better served if they were viewed as apolitical. But some of the decisions clearly have political overtones, and they tend to take on decision-making that goes beyond the purely legal questions. In my judgment, they should be more conservative in what cases they decide. They are political in the sense that they read the newspapers, they see the media, they understand that there is a mood in the country. And sometimes that works out better from my perspective. Chief Justice Earl Warren’s court was an activist court and they gave us the Miranda ruling. Now, what we would think of the world without the Miranda ruling in the United States as a constitutional protection to protect the right to counsel and the right against self-incrimination? But no, I don’t think it’s apolitical. 

Zerwas: I tend to believe it less with each nomination process. I think going back now two and a half decades, we get more and more evidence that the politicization of not only the Supreme Court but the federal bench as a whole has really become undeniable. For most cases, but for a few exceptions, you can predict not only the vote breakdown per case, but which justices will take which sides and which ones are the swing justices. That’s all we need to know about where the Supreme Court and the judiciary has landed over the last two decades.

Freiberg: No. It just belies common sense to think that they’re apolitical. If for nothing else, just for the reasons or the methods through which they’ve been appointed. I mean, you have Republicans who have controlled the United States Senate withholding confirmations when there’s Democratic presidents, but rushing them through when there’s not. I think there are a couple current members of the Supreme Court who shouldn’t be there for that reason. I think they were appointed through very politically questionable means and I think it calls into question the decisions that they make.


Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Photo: Ketut Subiyanto,

Query 3: On his way to netting 29 points in the Timberwolves’ impressive season-opening win over the Houston Rockets Wednesday, rising star Anthony Edwards drained back-to-back three-pointers, then turned to the Rockets’ bench and implored them to call a time out, for their own sake, because he was on such a hot streak. Do you like that kind of cockiness in sports?  

Orput: In that instance, I thought it was a lot of fun and I got a great kick out of it. You had to be there, or you had to at least be following it because I think it was poignant when he did it. And how could he not help but do that when he was that red hot? I mean, if he did it all the time, that would be hubris. But at that time, I got a kick out of it.

Doar: No. Personally, no. I always appreciate good sportsmanship. And while rival rivalries are great, I expect that the players represent the name on the front of their jersey and not just the name on the back.

Latz: [Laughs.] I have no problem with it. I think it’s just people being expressive and having fun. I think that’s great! It’s different than trashing the other side. A certain amount of behavior becomes unsportsmanlike. But look, there is an energy in that cockiness, which is all part of the sport. And I am fine with that.

Zerwas: You know, I think you’ve got that and you’ve got Aaron Rodgers telling the Chicago Bears fans that he “owns” them. I think we are seeing more and more of that and I think it has to do with media contracts and sponsorships, not sports. So my concern is does that approach trickle down to our collegiate athletes, now that they’re in a position where they can get sponsors, third-party money and contracts? I don’t care what KAT [Karl Anthony-Townes] says or what Aaron Rodgers says. But for many collegiate athletes, it will be their last chance to play the sport they love. The last thing they need is that approach or that attitude. That’s where I’m concerned. I’m concerned about where it goes from here.

Freiberg: Yeah, I’m OK with it. Ever since Randy Moss mooned the fans at Lambeau Field, I think there’s a place for it.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court as the court of Chief Justice Warren Burger. That is incorrect. The Miranda court was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. 



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