The Minnesota Senate has a longstanding reputation for upholding traditions and maintaining a high standard of ethics. As a state senator, I know firsthand how our members aim to prioritize and preserve the Senate’s integrity and transparency. However, the Senate’s Republican majority has recently taken official actions that put that integrity, transparency and high standard of ethics in serious jeopardy.
Late on the Thursday evening before a long July 4th holiday weekend, Senate Republicans held an under-the-radar Rules Committee hearing. The purpose of the hearing was to pass a resolution that would allow the Senate to hire an outside law firm.
This law firm, funded by the extreme, national, anti-abortion organization, Life Legal Defense Foundation, would be hired to intervene in a lawsuit we’re not even involved in — the Ramsey County court case of Dr. Jane Doe v. the State of Minnesota. Senate Republicans were clearly evasive in acknowledging the ideological record of the law firm they sought to hire, unable to name the organization that would pay the bills of outside counsel.
While the state already has legal counsel in this lawsuit, the attorney general of Minnesota, the resolution passed on a party-line vote.
The actions taken in the late-night hearing violate our Senate values and ethics. It sets a disturbing precedent of any extreme right- or left-wing law firm being involved in a lawsuit regarding legislation. Special interests should not be able to buy their way into the legislative process for the sole purpose of driving their political agendas across the three branches of government.
The Minnesota Senate is not named in the court case we discussed. Yet, we are unnecessarily involving the Senate because a well-funded, extreme national group convinced the Senate majority to do their bidding. We are a separate branch of government that should not be joining lawsuits for partisan purposes. The court system has had no problem stating when the Legislature should change statutes while considering legislative intent when considering cases. There is no need for us to intervene.
The Minnesota Senate should not be for sale to anyone with special interests looking to curtail the checks and balances established in the creation of our state and nation. It is imperative that we uphold a high standard of ethics in the government process. The Senate majority is failing to preserve that standard.
There is a distinction between partisan debate at the Legislature and attempting to inject partisan politics into what is supposed to be a neutral judicial process. The attorney general was elected by Minnesotans to represent them and the state’s best interests. He will do his job, and we should let him.
This lawsuit is not within the Legislature’s purview, and there is no reason for our involvement. We are not a party to the lawsuit and there is likely no precedent for this extremely political maneuver by Senate Republicans. What was abundantly clear at the Thursday hearing was a deliberate attempt, by Senate Republicans, to delegitimize the attorney general while aligning with those who share their ideological stance.
In reality, Attorney General Keith Ellison moved to dismiss this case immediately after the state was sued last year. Despite the supposed bias claimed by Republicans, he attempted to stop the case from moving forward. Republicans have no basis for challenging his commitment to Minnesota statutes and his obligation to defend them. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, himself acknowledged the attorney general hasn’t violated any rules of professional conduct.
While Senate Republicans took this troubling action without consulting me or any of my colleagues first, it has become a predictable pattern of failure to reach across the aisle and work in a bipartisan, good-faith manner. Their lack of transparency, bipartisanship and dialogue has been a common thread all session, special session and now during the interim. Minnesotans should rightfully be concerned knowing this has led to an extreme, partisan group footing the bill for outside litigators to involve us in a lawsuit we’re not party to.
If there is only one thing we can all agree on, it is that the Minnesota Senate should not be for sale.
Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, is minority leader of the Minnesota Senate.