Attorney general of Minnesota. Devoted public servant since 2002. The first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress. Now and before, guided by the principles of generosity and inclusion.
In 1963, Keith Ellison was born to a Catholic family in Detroit, Michigan, the third of five sons. From a young age, he was greatly influenced by his family’s involvement in the civil rights movement, including his grandfather’s work as a member of the NAACP in Louisiana.
After graduating from Wayne State University with a degree in economics, Ellison converted to Islam, noting that “when I looked at my spiritual life, and I looked at what might inform social change, justice in society ... I found Islam.” He married his high school sweetheart, earned his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990, and went to work litigating civil rights, employment, and criminal defense law. He then became executive director of the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, a public-interest firm specializing in delivering justice for Minnesotans who had nowhere else to turn.
In 2002, Ellison was elected to his first public office as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, and he was reelected in 2004 with 84 percent of the vote. Then, in November 2006, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and sworn in on January 4, 2007, the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. He took his oath of office with his hand on the Quran, garnering both criticism and praise. Ellison represented Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse in the state. His priorities in Congress were building prosperity for working families, promoting peace, pursuing environmental sustainability, advancing civil and human rights, and ending the U.S. involvement in the Iraq War. Rep. Ellison’s commitment to consumer justice led him to write legislation that was included in the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights of 2009. In 2008, he wrote the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act. And as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, he oversaw the nation’s financial services and housing industries, as well as Wall Street. Beginning in 2011, Rep. Ellison was elected co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which promotes the promise of fairness for all.
After six terms in Congress, Ellison ran for attorney general of Minnesota and won the election by 100,000 votes. This made him the first Muslim to win election to a statewide office in the United States and the first African American elected to statewide office in Minnesota. His job, as the people’s lawyer, is to help Minnesotans afford their lives and carry on with dignity, safety, and respect.
On May 31, 2020, Ellison took over as special prosecutor in the George Floyd case, and three days later, his office charged Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, with second-degree murder. Chauvin was convicted on all three counts on April 20, 2021, and Ellison’s management of the prosecution won him praise from progressives.
“Faith really should be a bridge, not a wall. Because at the end of the day, we should be focusing on what you believe, not what your religion is.”
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