A federal judge is weighing whether the election for Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District will proceed in November or be postponed to February in a special election after the death of one of the candidates.
U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright heard arguments on Wednesday just 27 days before the Nov. 3 election but made no immediate ruling.
At issue is whether state or federal law will determine the timing of the congressional election.
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, the Democratic first-term congresswoman, sued after Secretary of State Steve Simon announced a Feb. 9 special election due to the death of Adam Weeks, the Legal Marijuana Now candidate.
Under Minnesota law, amended in 2013, a special election must be held if a major party candidate dies within 79 days of an election.
Kevin J. Hamilton, an attorney representing Craig, argued that federal law preempts state law as it relates to congressional elections. Under federal law, “the Tuesday next after the 1st Monday in November, in every even numbered year, is established as the day for the election.”
“The states have as a general rule the power to establish the time, place and manner of elections, but that power as established in the Constitution is expressly subordinate to the congressional power to regulate elections,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also argued that the postponement of the election to February, weeks after a new Congress would be sworn in, would cause “irreparable harm” to voters in the 2nd district by denying them representation.
Reid LeBeau, an attorney representing GOP challenger Tyler Kistner, who filed a motion to intervene, argued that Weeks’ death created a “vacancy in nomination” under Minnesota law, triggering the special election.
The judge questioned LeBeau on how that squared with federal law.
“Does Mr. Weeks’ death create a vacancy under (federal law)?” Wright asked.
“Yes, your Honor, absolutely it does,” LeBeau said.
“As between the two, which is the prevailing law? Federal or state?” Wright asked.
“In this case, federal law,” LeBeau responded.
Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn, representing Simon, Minnesota’s top elections official, argued that past case law, including a Georgia law, made clear Minnesota had the authority to postpone the election without interfering with federal law.
The Legal Marijuna Now Party has announced it nominated Paula Overby to replace Weeks in the race.
Wright is expected to make a decision soon. Wright is a former appointee of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2012; she was nominated to the federal judiciary by President Obama in 2015.