Minnesota Supreme Court: No vote on Minneapolis minimum-wage increase in November

Minnesota Supreme Court
Minnesota Supreme Court

After gathering thousands of voter signatures, enduring rejection by the Minneapolis City Council and getting what turned out to be false hope from a district court judge, backers of a move to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 will not get a vote this fall.

Neither will a proposal to require city police officers to buy their own liability insurance. That measure was previously rejected by the Hennepin County District Court.

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a terse order Wednesday — a day after hearing oral arguments — that the City Council was legally justified in keeping the proposed charter amendment off the ballot. In reversing Hennepin County District Court Judge Susan Robiner’s ruling in favor of the amendment supporters, the justices relied on the city’s core argument. That is, the minimum wage was an ordinance and that the Minneapolis charter does not allow voters to place ordinances on the ballot by signature drives.

Further, what Robiner decided was non-binding court commentary from a decade-old appeals court decision — that city voters cannot offer up “an initiative cloaked as a charter amendment” — was given force of law by the Supreme Court.

“The Minneapolis City Charter instead vests in the City Council ‘the city’s general legislative and policymaking authority,’” read the order signed by Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea. “We conclude that the district court erred in granting the petition because (state law) and the Minneapolis City Charter do not authorize the proposed charter amendment.”

The court issued the order quickly to give Hennepin County time to place — or in this case not place — the measure on the November ballot. The court said a full opinion on the legal issues will come later. Before the order came out in mid-afternoon, backers had demonstrated in City Council chambers demanding that the council order the city attorney to withdraw the appeal. A vote to amend the council’s Committee of the Whole agenda to take up the matter failed.

After voting two weeks ago not to place the measure on the ballot, the council directed staff to prepare an ordinance to increase the minimum wage with a majority of the members saying they would support a city-only wage that is higher than the statewide wage. That is not expected to come back to the council until next spring.

Police insurance

The police insurance issue was decided on different grounds. Because it dealt with city employees and city policies toward those employees it was considered a valid charter amendment. That is, it dealt with the form and functions of government itself.

The city argued — and both the district court and the Supreme Court agreed — that the proposal conflicts with state law that requires the city to defend and indemnify its employees. The city also argued the state preempts any local action on the general topic.

“We conclude that the district court correctly decided that the proposed liability insurance amendment is preempted by state law and, therefore, is improper and cannot be included in the Minneapolis City Charter,” the Supreme Court order stated.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 08/31/2016 - 07:42 pm.

    Any word from

    Hennepin County District Court Judge Susan Robiner? The Supreme Court wasted no time in reversing her decision.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/01/2016 - 09:09 am.

      Probably Not

      As a rule, judges tend not to make public comment on reversals by a higher court.

      Being reversed is something that comes with the territory.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/01/2016 - 11:01 am.

      Doubt it

      Judges don’t like to be reversed, and a high profile and quick, unanimous reversal has to be especially humiliating. She earned it by issuing a terrible decision, though.

  2. Submitted by Jim Million on 08/31/2016 - 08:03 pm.

    Sense and Law Prevail

    There is an advantage to Minnesota common sense and fair adherence to statutes. That a housekeeping item like police insurance should rise to the level of Supreme Court review is pathetic, truly.

    Someday legal actions that defy “black letter law” may be relegated to proper venues. The Minnesota State Supreme Court should not need to hear such cases.

  3. Submitted by Don Casey on 09/01/2016 - 01:10 pm.


    The state Supreme Court decision was sound. A city charter is not the proper vehicle for actions that are basically legislative.

    It is an interesting contrast with the state, however. The state Legislature almost routinely uses amendments to the state Constitution for matters that are essentially legislative decisions — enactment of a sales tax, allocation of certain funds, veteran bonuses, the failed marriage amendment, etc., etc. And the forthcoming creation of an independent board to set legislative salaries.

    More often than not, the criteria seems to be if it is a political “hot potato,” amending the Constitution is an easy way to dodge taking responsibility.

    If the Legislature wants to put some decisions in the hands of voters, establish an initiative and referendum system. Stop cluttering up the Constitution.

  4. Submitted by Jane McWilliams on 09/01/2016 - 10:03 pm.

    Minimum Wage Decision

    The Supreme Court’s decision is a relief for those of us who live in charter cities (in my case, Northfield) as it would have had an impact on the role our charter plays. Charter issues differ substantially from policy issues like the two before the court.

    I am a firm supporter of the minimum wage being promoted, but believe it is a legislative issue and should be enacted by the Minneapolis council as an ordinance. With the number of signatures they received for the mis-placed charter amendment, I would think the council would see there is good reason to take up the issue themselves as a potential ordinance. I hope supporters on the council will make that happen.

    Charter amendments, like those of the federal constitution, should be restricted to appropriate changes, and an employment policy like the minimum wage falls outside that boundary.

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