Montana Supreme Court Elections Question (June 2012)
|Not on Ballot|
| This measure did not or |
will not appear on a ballot
Text of measure
The actual ballot language as it would have appeared:
 FOR requiring supreme court justices to be elected or appointed from districts with approximately equal populations.
 AGAINST requiring supreme court justices to be elected or appointed from districts with approximately equal populations.
The official ballot summary read as follows:
The Montana Supreme Court is composed of seven justices, one of whom is Chief Justice. Under current law, the justices are elected statewide and each Montanan votes for all seven positions. LR-119 would change existing law so that each justice is elected from one of seven districts of approximately equal population, with the Chief Justice then chosen from the seven by majority vote of the justices. Only Montanans living in each district would vote for their district’s justice. Justices must reside in their district when initially elected.
|2012 measure lawsuits|
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Michigan • Massachusetts • Minnesota
Missouri • Montana • Nevada
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|By lawsuit type|
|Ballot text |
Motivation of sponsors
- See also: List of ballot measure lawsuits in 2012
On November 23, 2011, a lawsuit to strike the measure from the ballot was filed by a group state voters which reports say included a handful of 1972 Constitutional Convention delegates. According to the lawsuit, the measure would illegally amend the Montana Constitution. The lawsuit specifically stated: "The referendum is illegal, unconstitutional and void, in that it deprives (voters) of their right to vote for certain Supreme Court candidates." On Monday, January 9, seven, one from each of the proposed judicial districts, Republican legislators filed a motion to intervene in the case with Judge James Reynolds. They asked the court to allow them to keep the measure on the ballot, according to their attorney, Sen. Art Wittich, "The (legislators') voting rights are directly impacted by the disposition of this case. As residents and voters of the proposed seven districts, the intervenors have a substantial interest in the subject matter of this action and should be allowed to intervene." The lawmakers who filed the motion are Sens. Joe Balyeat (R-34), who sponsored the bill, Edward Walker (R-29), and Greg Hinkle (R-7); and Reps. Mark Blasdel (R-10), Ryan Osmundson (R-29), Matthew Rosendale (R-19), and Kelly Flynn (R-68).
On March 20, 2012, Judge Reynolds struck the measure form the ballot as unconstitutional saying that adding the new candidate requirements for Supreme Court justices, those which required candidates live inside proposed regional districts, conflict with what is already in the state constitution. Requests by supporters to simply remove the offending language were denied, with Judge Reynolds saying, "Without clear judicial legislation, this court cannot rewrite the remaining parts of this referendum. To do so would entail completely rewriting the title, the ballot statement, the statements of implication, and the text of the referendum itself. There is no constitutional or statutory authority for such a revision."
The state appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court on Friday, April 6. The Montana Attorney General’s Office asked the state Supreme Court to reverse the ruling because a lawsuit on the subject was "unripe," stating in a brief, "LR-119 is not presently in effect, and may never become law."
In a 6-to-1 ruling delivered on Thursday, April 12, the state Supreme Court upheld Judge Reynolds's March decision. However, the ruling was on the request expedited appeal due to the June 5 date the measure is supposed to appear on the ballot. Reportedly, Sen. Balyeat expressed the opinion that all of the sitting Supreme Court justices should have recused themselves due to their interest in the outcome.
- Documents in the case can be found here.
Path to the ballot
Section 8 of Article XIV of the Montana Constitution says that an affirmative roll call vote of two-thirds of all members of the Montana Legislature is required to refer an amendment to the ballot.
- Montana 2012 ballot measures
- 2012 ballot measures
- Montana Legislature
- List of Montana ballot measures
- Montana Legislature, "Senate Bill 268," accessed July 20, 2011
- Montana Secretary of State ballot measure archives
- Associated Press "Judge rules elections initiative unconstitutional," March 20, 2012
- Montana Secretary of State,"Legislative Referendum 119," accessed January 11, 2012
- Missoulian, "Montana group files suit over referendum on election of Supreme Court justices," November 23, 2011
- Missoulian "Montana legislators move to keep Supreme Court referendum on ballot," January 10, 2012
- Billings Gazette "State argues for Supreme Court measure on ballot," April 6, 2012
- Great Falls Tribune "Montana's high court blocks initiative on justices' locations," April 12, 2012