The Republican leadership in both the State House and the Senate has prepared resolutions to enter a case in the Supreme Court challenging a recent law passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor to expand his powers to appoint judiciary vacancies.
The resolutions tabled Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Cary Smith and House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, both Republicans of Billings, would force the Legislative Services Division’s Legal Services Office to hire lawyers to counter the lawsuit filed in March.
Smith and Vinton issued a joint statement on the upcoming resolutions to the Montana State News Bureau on Thursday.
Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings
Senator Cary Smith, R-Billings
“The constitution of the state of Montana gives the legislature the power to make laws. When a law that we have drafted, discussed and passed is subject to judicial challenge, the legislature is an indispensable party to that dispute. It is our duty as elected legislators to protect the integrity of the legislature and its ability to fulfill its constitutional role. As in previous sessions, lawmakers must authorize the recruitment of an outside lawyer to intervene in any pending litigation. “
A tax bill to estimate the cost of the decision, which is usually made for bills that require government funds, was not available on Thursday.
Former Republican and Democratic officials, along with Vernon Finley of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Montana League of Women Voters, petitioned the Montana Supreme Court in March challenging the constitutionality of Senate Act 140.
With the passage of the law, the Judicial Nomination Commission, which had previously compiled a list of candidates to be presented to the governor for appointment to vacancies in the District Court and Supreme Court, ended.
As the legislature and executive prepare to join forces on the case, these officials have already attacked the impartiality of the judiciary, based on an internal judge poll asking for support or opposition to SB 140. Earlier this week, the Montana Justice Department compared the Supreme Court for Bank Robbers for allowing Silver Bow District Court judge Kurt Krueger to be appointed Supreme Justice on the case after he polled an opinion against the bill had given up; Krueger backed off after his poll was revealed in court documents by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen.
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