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High court thwarts attempt to make newspaper pay for new election

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High court thwarts attempt to make newspaper pay for new election10/21/96 MINNESOTA--An unsuccessful candidate for the state senate failed in…

High court thwarts attempt to make newspaper pay for new election

10/21/96

MINNESOTA–An unsuccessful candidate for the state senate failed in his attempt to force The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune to pay for a new primary election in early October. John Derus claimed he lost because the newspaper juxtaposed his photograph with a story about charity fraud.

The Supreme Court dismissed Derus’ complaint in a 3-2 vote, with two judges holding that Minnesota election misconduct laws do not apply to third parties like the newspaper, and a third holding that the court has no power to hear election contests under the state constitution. The court had taken jurisdiction of the case from a trial court before the lower court heard arguments.

Derus claimed that when The Star Tribune misplaced a photo of him with a story about a charity fraud the day of the primary election, the newspaper misrepresented him, and violated voters’ rights to a fair election free of “undue or fraudulent” influence. The newspaper also violated the Minnesota Constitution which gives the press freedom, but requires that it be “responsible for the abuse of such a right,” Derus argued.

Only the Minnesota Legislature, not the court, would have the authority to change election laws so they applied to situations like the present controversy, according to the majority opinion of the court. Derus can seek a “remedy” for his case through the legislature, because the Minnesota Constitution states the legislature is “the judge of the … eligibility of its own members.”

The third judge stated he voted in favor of the dismissal because allowing the case to go through the courts would intrude on the legislative branch of government. The Minnesota Constitution does not allow the court to make any decisions regarding election contests unless they are advisory opinions, and even then they must be instructed by legislators to take such action, the judge held.

Two dissenting judges argued that the Supreme Court far overstepped its constitutional boundaries because it blocked the case from going through the “constitutionally permissible” lower court channels established by the Minnesota Legislature. (Derus v. Higgins)