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Montana Republicans ask U.S. Supreme Court to hear legislative powers case

The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court

Montana Republican lawmakers are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case after a state high court decision put limits on legislative powers.

In Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s latest petition on behalf of lawmakers, he argues Montana justices violated the federal constitutional right to due process and acted in their own self-interest.

The dispute over power between Republican legislative leaders and the Montana Supreme Court began last spring when lawmakers accused the justices of misconduct and bias, and subpoenaed judicial records.

The state’s high court earlier this year blocked legislative subpoenas for judicial records, and ruled that the lawmakers’ demands were too broad and beyond the branch’s authority.

University of Montana Law Professor Larry Howell says it’s unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will want to wade into the dispute.

“My instincts tell me that the last thing the U.S. Supreme Court wants to do is get involved in a question of state politics and a fight between the state legislature and a state supreme court.”

Howell says it will be difficult to prove that there’s a federal interest in the case.

Democratic legislative leaders call the Republicans’ actions an attack on the checks and balances that ensure government is accountable to Montanans.

Randy Cox, the attorney for Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin, who was also subpoenaed, says McLaughlin respects the rule of law and looks forward to the Supreme Court’s decision on whether to take on the case.

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.