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Mike Black: 2020 General Election Q&A

Mike Black is a 2020 candidate for Montana supreme court justice.
Mike Black 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.

Mike Black 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?

First, I am committed to Montana. I decided to run when Justice McKinnon announced last summer she would leave Montana for North Carolina. She has since boomeranged, for reasons that are murky. I have deep Montana roots and I am not going anywhere. I always put Montana people first.

Second, I believe the Court should work to protect the fundamental rights of Montana people and uphold established law, like stream access and the right to privacy. The Montana Constitution reflects hard-learned lessons from Montana history, which I understand very well.

Third, I offer a broad perspective and a scholarly approach. I want to help shape consistent and fair decisions that let us all know where we stand. Montana has given much to me and my family, and I want an opportunity to give back to Montana in the best way I can – protecting Montana people on the Supreme Court.

What legal experience do you bring to the position?

I offer experience different from the other Justices. I worked on some of the most complicated lawsuits in Montana, battling against outstanding lawyers for years. I worked for Attorney Generals of both parties, fighting dark money in Montana elections. I worked for Montana Legal Services, increasing access to justice. I worked on cases all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I represented some of Montana’s wealthiest people and some of Montana’s poorest people. I represented railroads, mining companies and insurance companies -- and I sued railroads, mining companies and insurance companies. I helped thousands of Montana workers recover employee benefits that had been lost after employer mismanagement. I made partner in two firms and worked solo for several years – so I know what it’s like to run a small business in Montana and get the job done.

I will bring a valuable perspective to the Supreme Court.

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

Under the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct, a justice must act with integrity and perform judicial duties impartially. A judge “shall comply with the law” and a judge “shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” A judge must disqualify himself or herself if the judge’s “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

I will scrupulously identify the issues and be aware of parties appearing in any case. If any case involves a matter I have been involved in, if it involves a former client in a matter relating to work I have done for that client, if it involves a public policy issue that I advocated for or against, or there is a reasonable question about whether I could act impartially for any reason, I will disqualify myself.

I will follow the letter and spirit of the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct.

Please describe your judicial philosophy.

A justice must treat everyone with dignity, respect the rights of all equally and fairly, while avoiding personal bias or political beliefs. Partisanship has no place.

One must defer to the legislature when it properly acts. Legislators weigh public policy and pass laws. That's why they're elected.

An unambiguous statute should be enforced as written, unless it is unconstitutional. If the statute is ambiguous because it is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, one should attempt to determine the intent of the legislature and interpret it in harmony with other statutes regarding the same legal issue, unless such interpretation is unconstitutional.

Precedent should be followed.

Finally, fundamental rights must be protected. When interpreting the constitution, plain meaning of the language should control, based upon the text and structure of constitution. If plain meaning interpretation in not practicable, deliberations of the constitutional convention should be considered to help determine meaning.

What other issues are important to your campaign? (300 word limit)

I support protecting fundamental rights, upholding the Montana Constitution, enforcing valid statutes, following established law (precedent), and commitment to Montana.

Fundamental rights include freedom of speech and the rights to individual dignity, individual privacy, a clean and healthful environment, and access to justice. Constitutional protection includes equality in public education. Statutes prohibiting dark money in our elections must be enforced to require disclosure and transparency in our elections.

Established law includes access to public streams and land, which should not be obstructed by gates and locks across customary access routes. Established law includes a woman’s right to

choose. Following established law allows for stability so that we may conduct our affairs and business in an orderly manner, by helping us know how the law will likely treat our conduct. Respect for precedent promotes consistent development of law, encourages reliance on courts, and helps us believe the law is fair.

Finally, Montanans deserve commitment to Montana. In order to serve on the Court, the Montana Constitution requires that a candidate reside in Montana for two years before the election and reside here while serving as a justice. Last summer, Justice McKinnon bought a home on 33 acres in North Carolina. She promised a bank in a contract that she would establish her residence there by August 14, 2019 and reside there for at least a year. I do not know how much time McKinnon has spent at her North Carolina home, but I do not assume anyone violates a promise in a contract. The promise to her bank raises a question about whether McKinnon is committed to serving the people of Montana.

The people of Montana deserve to have a justice committed to living here and serving Montanans. I am committed to serving Montana and I am not going anywhere.

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