The judge shoots down the HB 325

HELENA — A Bozeman District Court judge overturned a legislative ballot hoard that would have allowed voters to decide whether Montana Supreme Court justices should be elected by districts, rather than a statewide election. ‘State.

Judge Peter Ohman quoted Reichert v. State strongly in its order, where the Montana Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of a legislative referendum proposing changes to the qualification and selection of Montana Supreme Court justices.

Specifically, Ohman notes that Reichert established that “district election of Supreme Court justices was unconstitutional” and that the mansion to change the way justices are elected should be through constitutional amendment, not by Referendum. A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds of the entire legislature to be on the ballot, rather than a simple majority for a returning ballot.

Since Montana became a state in 1889, justices to the state Supreme Court have been elected through statewide contests.

House Bill 325 was passed by the 2021 Legislature just as GOP leaders were challenging the neutrality of the judiciary. Supporters of the legislation said moving to districts would help ensure judges have political preferences more similar to the state’s electorate. Opponents likened the measure to political gerrymandering.

A group of Montana voters, lawyers and former elected officials filed a legal challenge against HB 325 last May.


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