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Laurie McKinnon: 2020 General Election Q&A

Laurie McKinnon is a 2020 candidate for Montana supreme court justice.
Laurie McKinnon is a 2020 candidate for Montana supreme court justice.

Montana Public Radio is gathering information on all statewide general election candidates to publish as a resource for our audience. We asked all the statewide candidates to respond to the following questions via email, limiting their answers to 150 words per question. These are their unedited responses.

Laurie McKinnon is a 2020 candidate for Montana supreme court justice.

What makes you the best candidate to sit on the state supreme court and how do you stand out from your opponent(s)?

A justice must be fair, impartial, and dedicated to her work. I have never contributed to a political campaign and I do not have an agenda that predisposes me to any side. I consider all the facts and arguments of each case and apply the law consistently and fairly. I do not decide a case based on who the party is and I believe the law applies equally to everyone.

The Court reviews decisions made by a trial judge. I have been a trial judge and bring that valuable experience to the Court.

I have demonstrated I can be fair and impartial; that I follow the law and apply it equally to everyone; and that I uphold your constitutional rights. A justice must lead with integrity and follow the oath she took to Montana citizens. I have done this and want to continue to serve Montana.

What legal experience do you bring to the position?

I have been a justice on the Court for 8 years and decided thousands of cases, written nearly 500 majority decisions for the Court, and another 150 concurring and dissenting opinions. My decisions are well researched, well written, and follow the law and our constitution.

I was also district judge for 6 years. I managed distribution of a Montana waterway, successfully ran a drug treatment court, implemented a mediation program for low income parents to resolve parenting disputes, and ensured abused and neglected children had a voice in Montana courts. I have promoted access to Montana courts and am a recipient of the Montana State Bar Karla M. Gray Equal Justice Award.

I am a leader and have educated judges in this state and nationally. I believe strongly in continuing my own judicial education and learning ways to improve court services and access to the courts. I am working on my doctorate in Judicial Studies.

What represents a conflict of interest and how would you handle it as a state supreme court justice?

We have a fundamental constitutional right to a fair and impartial justice. This means that a justice cannot be predisposed to a particular interest or side. If I have connections to the parties or attorneys that present a conflict of interest, I must recuse myself. I must also recuse myself if for personal reasons I cannot be fair and impartial.

It is important that I not only be impartial and nonpartisan, but that the litigants that appear before me believe that I will be fair and impartial. That is why a justice must

remain nonpartisan both on and off the bench, and be selective about activities she participates in. I have never contributed to a campaign or involved myself in any activities off the bench which would create an appearance of being partisan. I am careful to participate in judicial education which is presented in a neutral forum, without agendas.

Please describe your judicial philosophy?

When I decide a case on appeal, I first make sure I understand what occurred in the trial court by examining the trial court record, the facts, reviewing transcripts of all hearings, and making sure I understand the trial court’s rulings. This ensures I decide only those issues which have been properly raised on appeal and that my decisions are well informed and made on a fully developed record.

A justice is the guardian of our constitutional rights. I must protect our constitutional rights against laws and statutes that violate those rights. While the legislature is free to enact laws that reflect policy, the courts provides the necessary checks and balances when a law is alleged to be unconstitutional.

I also must follow precedent and rules of law from prior decisions of the Court. In this way, the law provides consistency and citizens know how to order their lives.

What other issues are important to your campaign?

I believe a justice must be a leader. How they conduct their judicial campaign is the first indication of whether they have the integrity and leadership qualities to be a fair and impartial justice. I also believe judicial races should not be bought by a candidate and that the campaign presents an opportunity to educate the public about the nonpartisan judicial branch of government.

I believe strongly that our three branches of government must remain separate and independent. The legislature and executive are by their very nature subject to change and popular thinking. They are the partisan branches of government where decisions about policy and the direction of our state must be made. The judicial branch provides the foundational stability required to preserve our democracy. If the judicial branch is not independent of the partisanship that takes place in the other two branches of government, than that foundational stability is lost.

In these challenging times, it is particularly important that we adhere to these principles and believe in our institutions of government. The constitutional checks and balances and separation of power has worked in the past and will continue to carry us through. A justice must respect the boundaries imposed by the Constitution on each branch of government. The Constitution is our governing document and holds our society together. An independent judiciary ensures these constitutional principles are protected. I subscribe to these values and believe every Montanan treasures these principles.

I want to thank Montanans for the honor and privilege of being your justice for the last 8 years; for allowing me to do something I love and something I am good at, while serving

Montana. I want to continue to continue my work and serve Montana as your justice for another 8 years.

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