Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants voters to weigh in this fall on a constitutional amendment to allow executions. The Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the death penalty is mentioned in the state Constitution in a passing reference in a section about the rights of accused criminals. Another passage in the state constitution prohibits “cruel or unusual punishments.” It is not clear how a Minnesota death penalty without explicit constitutional authorization would fare in state courts. Fred Morrison, a University of Minnesota professor of law, said that given that no executions have occurred in Minnesota since 1906, it could be argued that capital punishment is “unusual” here.
Minnesota abolished the death penalty by statute in 1911, five years after a botched hanging. Bills pending this year could reestablish it by statute as well, which requires approval of the Legislature and the governor but not the voters. Sen. Mady Reiter, R-Shoreview, said that she has prepared an amendment to her capital punishment bill that would propose a constitutional amendment. Don’t count on seeing it on the November ballot, though. The Legislature must approve constitutional questions, and its leaders’ reactions have ranged from uninterest to oppositon. “I know it would be an uphill battle all the way,” Reiter said. “It is not a light topic.”