Order overturns Ramsey County ruling that 3-0 vote requirement was unconstitutional
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a finding that state law requiring unanimous state Board of Pardons clemency votes violates Article V, Sec. 7 of the Minnesota Constitution.
The court’s order means that the requirement for unanimous, 3-0 votes will remain in place for petitioners seeking clemency before the board, which includes the governor, attorney general and chief justice.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s appeal just yesterday in the case of Shefa v. Walz, Ellison and Gildea, which involved Amreya Rahmeto Shefa’s rejected pardon petition. Convicted of manslaughter for killing her husband in 2013, she faces imminent federal deportation to Ethiopia—where she fears she will be killed—unless pardoned.
Shefa’s petition was rejected in 2020. Two Board of Pardons members, Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, voted yes, but Chief Justice Lorie Gildea voted no, denying the petition.
Shefa later sued in Ramsey County District Court, where Judge Laura Nelson denied her requested relief, saying the Legislature must resolve that issue by rewriting the law. But Nelson agreed with Shefa that the law requiring unanimous votes is unconstitutional.
Nelson also ruled that the governor “has some pardon power or duty separate or apart from the Board of Pardons.”
Today’s two-page ruling was issued as an order, with a full opinion to follow later. Lawyers at oral arguments yesterday asked for an expedited order because of the urgency of the issues involved.
While shooting down key parts of Nelson’s ruling, the Supreme Court Thursday upheld another portion of her findings, a holding that statutes governing the Board of Pardon’s operations do not violate Article III, Section 1 of the MN Constitution—the division-of-powers section.
The Supreme Court’s ruling does not address the requested nun pro tunc pardon remedy that Shefa sought and the governor supported. The Supreme Court, finding the law does not violate the Constitution, determined it need not take on the issue.
The order is signed by Justice G. Barry Anderson, who presided over yesterday’s hearing. Chief Justice Gildea did not take part in the decision.
While the ruling does not resolve Shefa’s problems, it does pave the way for the Board of Pardons to resume hearings and take up new petitions. Gildea informed the governor a few months ago that she would not attend any more hearings until appeals in the case were resolved.