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Bipartisan group of former Montana elected officials challenge SB 140 as unconstitutional

Montana Supreme Court
Posted at 9:04 PM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 23:04:13-04

HELENA — A legal challenge to Senate Bill 140, which gives the governor broader powers to appoint state judges, has been filed one day after Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill into law.

SB140 eliminated the Judicial Nomination Commission and gives the governor of Montana the ability to directly appoint state district court judges and Supreme Court justices upon vacancy.

A petition to the Montana Supreme Court filed Wednesday argues the new law is unconstitutional.

Bipartisan group of former elected officials challenge SB 140 as unconstitutional

Those challenging the law are former Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown, former Democratic state Rep. Dorothy Bradley, former Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley, 1972 Constitutional Convention delegate Mae Nan Ellingson and the Montana League of Women Voters.

Gianforte is the only defendant named.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that language in the Montana Constitution intends that the governor is able to appoint judges only from a group of nominees, and not make direct appointments.

The petition also argues the intention behind the Montana Constitution of 1972 for judicial appointments was to replace the governor’s sole discretion to fill vacancies with a system that provided a list of qualified nominees that came from an independent vetting process.

Established in 1973 by the Montana State Legislature, the Judicial Nomination Commission is comprised of seven members who would present a select list of judges to fill vacancies.