Legislative Reform Helps Pave the Way for a More Equitable and Just System

Governor Walz signed the Public Safety Bill into law on May 19, 2023, marking a significant milestone for gun safety in our state. What you may have missed in the news cycle is that this landmark legislation includes a provision that establishes a Clemency Review Commission, modifying the operations of Minnesota’s three member Board of Pardons, and eliminating the requirement for a unanimous vote of the Board of Pardons to grant pardons.

This progressive change was spurred by the persistent efforts of Governor Walz, including in litigation in which the Governor’s office was represented by Ciresi Conlin attorneys Barry Landy, Kyle Wislocky, and Jacob Siegel. Walz sided with Ethiopian immigrant Amreya Shefa, who filed a lawsuit arguing that the unanimous vote requirement was unconstitutional. While a Ramsey Court judge initially ruled in favor of Shefa, the decision was later overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Significantly, the Supreme Court’s decision explained that the Minnesota legislature had power to reform the system and eliminate the unanimous vote requirement, explaining that “the Legislature could adopt a voting scheme that allowed a pardon to be granted under any of the following circumstances: the governor and attorney general vote to grant the pardon; the governor and chief justice vote to grant the pardon; or the governor, attorney general and chief justice all vote to grant a pardon.” Thus, this legal challenge brought critical attention to the issue of access to clemency, and ultimately led to this important legislative reform.

The new law represents a much-needed shift in our approach to criminal justice, recognizing the importance of rehabilitation and second chances for incarcerated individuals. By establishing the Clemency Review Commission, and by lowering barriers to clemency posed by the unanimous vote requirement, Minnesota is creating a fairer and more inclusive process that considers a broader range of perspectives and allows for a more thoughtful review of clemency petitions.

This significant change not only provides hope for those who deserve a chance at redemption, but it also aligns with our firm’s values of fairness, justice, and compassion. We firmly believe in the power of rehabilitation and the potential for positive transformation, and this law helps pave the way for a more equitable and just system.

We celebrate this significant achievement as we continue to work together towards a more just and compassionate society.