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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

State Supreme Court rules against electing justices by district

The Montana Supreme Court has affirmed a block on a referendum that would have asked voters to elect supreme court justices in districts instead of statewide.

In a 5-2 decision, the state’s high court ruled the referendum cannot appear on the November midterm ballot, saying it would diminish the right to vote in Montana.

The referendum would have established seven districts across the state and supreme court candidates would run for election within the districts they live. In their ruling, the five concurring justices wrote that the state high court is tasked with applying the law fairly statewide and is forbidden from representing any one constituency.

Justices Beth Baker and Jim Rice dissented and argued the issue should go before voters. Baker wrote the supreme court should not get in the way of voters and their right to change laws or the Constitution.

Republicans pushed for the referendum last legislative session, with sponsor Rep. Barry Usher saying supreme court districts would better represent voters on the court. In a statement Friday, he said the court is in “dire need of reform.”

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.