Montana Supreme Court votes to protect their own jobs, deprive Montanans of right to decide election methods
In response to the state Supreme Court’s self-serving 5-2 decision to uphold a lower court ruling that Montanans do not have the right to decide how they elect their Supreme Court justices, Attorney General Knudsen issued the following statement:
“Opinions from the Montana Supreme Court have become little more than the rubberstamping of Democrat Party policies with a thin veneer of poor, tortured judicial reasoning. This is perhaps their most shameful and self-serving ruling yet. In order to protect their own jobs, Justices Gustafson, McGrath, McKinnon, Sandefur, and Shea deprived every Montanan of their right to decide how we elect Supreme Court justices.”
House Bill 325, sponsored by Representative Barry Usher of Billings, would have allowed voters to choose if Montana should elect Supreme Court justices by district instead of statewide, as is currently done. The question would have appeared as a referendum on the November ballot.
Representative Usher issued the following statement in response to the ruling:
“If anyone needed irrefutable proof that our state Supreme Court is a corrupt institution in dire need of reform, this is it. By not disqualifying themselves, each justice violated the law and their own code of judicial conduct. Montanans have the right to determine the method of Supreme Court elections, not activist left-wing judges who don’t want to be accountable to the people they are supposed to serve.”
Attorney General Knudsen had called on the Supreme Court justices to disqualify themselves from the case because each “has a significant personal interest in how and where they must campaign to keep their jobs.”
“Montana’s constitutional system rests on the bedrock assumption of ‘an independent, fair, and impartial judiciary’ which can only be preserved through ‘the appearance of judicial propriety and independence,’” the motion to disqualify read. “Montana law, therefore, requires judges and justices to disqualify themselves when they have an interest in the outcome of a case. Each justice of this Court holds a clear, direct, and personal interest in the outcome of this case.”
Additionally, the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.12(A) reads: “A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
The justices denied Attorney General Knudsen’s motion and instead took the case, ruling on an issue where each has a significant personal interest.
“Our historical judicial restraint is rooted in the people’s reservation of their right to change the laws or the Constitution through the initiative and referendum process,” Justice Beth Baker wrote in her dissenting opinion. “Quite simply, we should not be advising on the constitutionality of a measure that has not become law when there is no present threat to disenfranchisement as there was in Reichert. Instead, in an ironic turn, the Court denies Montanans the right to vote so that they cannot be denied the right to vote.”
That dissent was joined by Justice James Rice. It begins on page 37 here.