Kahn v. Griffin, A04-1646.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation701 N.W.2d 815
Docket NumberNo. A04-1646.,A04-1646.
PartiesPhyllis KAHN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Susanne GRIFFIN, City of Minneapolis Director of Elections, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date11 August 2005

701 N.W.2d 815

Phyllis KAHN, et al., Plaintiffs,
Susanne GRIFFIN, City of Minneapolis Director of Elections, et al., Defendants

No. A04-1646.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

August 11, 2005.

701 N.W.2d 818
Alan W. Weinblatt, Maura J. Shuttleworth, Weinblatt & Gaylord, PLC, David Schultz, St. Paul, MN, for Plaintiffs

Jay M. Heffern, City Attorney, James A. Moore, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendants.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.



This case is before us on a certified question from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. The federal court's certified question implicates both the Minnesota Constitution and state statutes and is as follows:

Does the Minnesota Constitution provide greater protections to the right to vote than does the United States Constitution such that failure to hold prompt elections following decennial redistricting violates (a) the Minnesota Constitution and/or (b) Minnesota Statutes §§ 204B.135, subd. 1, and 204B.14, subd. 1a?1

Under Minnesota law, state legislative redistricting occurs every ten years, following the completion of the decennial United States Census. Minn. Const. art. IV, § 3. After the completion of legislative redistricting, municipalities that elect council members by wards must redistrict "within 60 days after the legislature has been redistricted, or at least 19 weeks before the state primary election in the year ending in two, whichever is first." Minn.Stat. § 204B.135, subd. 1 (2004). On March 19, 2002, the Minnesota Special Redistricting Panel issued its final order adopting congressional and state legislative redistricting plans. No one appealed the panel's order establishing the redistricting

701 N.W.2d 819
plans. The City of Minneapolis elects its city council members by wards; therefore, the Minneapolis Redistricting Commission drew new ward boundaries based on the 2000 census data and then filed its final plan on April 18, 2002

In November 2001, the City of Minneapolis held elections for council members using ward boundaries drawn in 1992 based on the 1990 decennial census data. The Minneapolis City Charter provides that council members serve four-year terms. Minneapolis, Minnesota City Charter, ch. 2, § 3 (2004). The charter also provides that council members "may complete the term for which they are elected or appointed notwithstanding changes in Ward boundaries." Id., ch. 1, § 3. Thus, elections in the City of Minneapolis utilizing the ward boundaries that the Minneapolis Redistricting Commission drew in 2002 will not take place until November 2005. According to the decennial census, the official population of the City of Minneapolis in 2000 was 382,618 people. The parties agreed that because the City of Minneapolis has 13 wards and the population should be distributed evenly among the wards, the ideal population of each ward following the 2000 census should be 29,432. But as time has passed since the 1992 redistricting, population has become increasingly unevenly distributed among the 13 wards. Wards 2, 4, and 6 as drawn in 1992 contained more people than the ideal ward population, and Wards 1, 11, 12, and 13 contained fewer people than the ideal ward population.2 There are no current council members residing within the boundaries of Wards 3 and 8 as drawn in the 2002 plan.

In July 2003, the plaintiffs, who are all citizens of the City of Minneapolis, commenced this action in Hennepin County District Court against the City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Director of Elections Susanne Griffin, and the 13 incumbent city council members. The plaintiffs asked the court to "declare that Minneapolis City Charter and Code of Ordinances Chapter 1, § 3(F), to the extent that it allows current members of the Minneapolis City Council to continue to serve in malapportioned districts, is unconstitutional in violation of the above-cited provisions of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Minnesota."3 The plaintiffs also asked the court to "order the Defendants to immediately conduct a new election for the office of City Council member in each of the 13 wards of the City of Minneapolis in districts that are equally proportioned."

On August 20, 2003, the defendants successfully removed this case from the Hennepin County District Court to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)-(b) (2000). When the federal district court accepted this case, it was assigned to Judge John Tunheim, after the court determined that it was suitable to be a companion to a case that was at that time pending before the same judge. See Lee v. City of Minneapolis, Civil File No. 02-1139 JRT/FLN. After further proceedings, both plaintiffs and defendants moved for summary judgment.

701 N.W.2d 820
The plaintiffs based their argument for summary judgment on the one person, one vote principle articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 12 L.Ed.2d 506 (1964), and its progeny. In Reynolds, the Supreme Court concluded that "the Equal Protection Clause guarantees the opportunity for equal participation by all voters in the election of state legislators." Id. at 566, 84 S.Ct. 1362. The Court stated that "[d]iluting the weight of votes because of place of residence impairs basic constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment just as much as invidious discriminations based upon factors such as race or economic status." Id. (internal citations omitted). After hearing arguments from the parties, the federal court denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and granted the defendants' motion

In its memorandum order and opinion, the federal district court reiterated the one person, one vote principle established by the Supreme Court in Reynolds, which principle was made applicable to the states in Avery v. Midland Cty., 390 U.S. 474, 88 S.Ct. 1114, 20 L.Ed.2d 45 (1968). The court then noted that in Political Action Conference of Illinois v. Daley, 976 F.2d 335 (7th Cir.1992), the Seventh Circuit considered an argument "almost identical" to plaintiffs' argument in this case. In Political Action Conference of Illinois, the Seventh Circuit deemed as the "critical question" whether the election at issue, which was held using a districting plan based on the previous decade's census data, remained valid under Reynolds. 976 F.2d at 340. The federal district court agreed with the Seventh Circuit and stated that, "absent a finding that the 2001 elections were based on districts that were so unrepresentative as to be unconstitutional, it would be inappropriate for this Court to interfere in a process and arena that is left to the state and, more particularly, to the legislative branch of the state." 2004 WL 1635846 *3. The court went on to explain that Minneapolis's 2001 elections were based on a districting plan properly enacted following the 1990 census, and thus the elections were not "the result of an impermissibly delayed redistricting schedule." Id.

The federal district court recognized that the delay in the implementation of the districts drawn based on the 2000 census did burden the voting rights of Minneapolis residents. However, citing Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 433-34, 112 S.Ct. 2059, 119 L.Ed.2d 245 (1992) (internal citations omitted), and Reynolds, 377 U.S. at 577, 84 S.Ct. 1362, the court observed that "while the right to vote is of fundamental import, it is not absolute, and must be weighed against other concerns." 2004 WL 1635846 *4. The court cited several federal circuit court decisions upholding the validity of elections based on outdated redistricting plans, and noted that some of these cases presented "situations arguably more egregious than the one at hand."4 Id. at *5. The court then balanced the burden on the right to vote against the interest advanced by the City which was the four-year term of office and election cycle for Minneapolis City Council members. The court also balanced the right to vote against the burden of implementing the relief sought by the plaintiffs, which was at a minimum the extra cost of planning

701 N.W.2d 821
for and implementing an election on short notice at least every 20 years. After considering the respective burdens and interests, the court concluded that
while the laws at issue in this case certainly burden the one-person-one-vote principle, given the propriety of the redistricting process, and in light of the state's valid interests and the costs of implementing the relief requested, the burden presented by the present circumstances is not so severe as to qualify as a Constitutional violation.

Id. at *8. However, the court left open the possibility that the Minnesota Constitution could provide a greater degree of protection to the right to vote. The court then granted the plaintiffs' request to certify a state constitutional and statutory question to our court.

On September 8, 2004, we accepted the certified question from the federal district court asking us to determine if the Minnesota Constitution and/or Minn.Stat. §§ 204B.135, subd. 1, and 204B.14, subd. 1a, provide greater protections to the right to vote than does the United States Constitution. When we accepted the certified question, we directed the parties to not only address the certified question on its merits, but also whether the issues presented in the question are moot. The parties complied with this request when they submitted their briefs.


We first consider whether the issues raised in the certified question are moot. It is a well-established rule in Minnesota that a court only has jurisdiction to issue a declaratory judgment if there is a justiciable controversy. Minnesota Ass'n of Public Schools v. Hanson, 287 Minn. 415, 419-20, 178 N.W.2d 846, 850 (1970). A controversy is only justiciable when it involves definite and concrete assertions of right. Id...

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