Montana Republicans continue their push for changes to the courts
Montana Republicans calling for more legislative oversight of the state’s courts and judges are starting to see those demands turn into policy.
The Montana Judges Association has come out in opposition to so many bills in the last month, the group’s lobbyist Bruce Spencer told a committee of lawmakers he was happy to stand as a proponent Wednesday morning.
“It does give me great pleasure to appear on behalf of the Montana Judges Association in support of one of Senator [Greg] Hertz’s bill,” Spencer said.
Spencer spoke in support of Senate Bill 252, which would put judicial officers under the purview of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, the state office monitoring campaign finance and ethics violations.
Just a few hours later, Spencer was once again speaking on a bill brought by Republican Sen. Greg Hertz of Polson. But this time he spoke in opposition of the proposal that would allow candidates to declare party affiliation in nonpartisan races, including school boards, some local governments and judges. Hertz says Senate Bill 200 would give voters important information ahead of an election, and that the political leanings of judges are often already known.
“We see all of these nonpartisan organizations that we know aren’t nonpartisan. That label is just being misused for so many different things,” Hertz said.
Spencer says it’s important that judges are free from party influence.
“It is the vital feeling every litigant needs to have before a judge – that they are fair and that they are impartial,” he said.
One person spoke in support of the proposal. The Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana Magistrates Association and the State Bar of Montana spoke in opposition, saying it would unnecessarily politicize nonpartisan positions.
A third bill from Hertz related to judicial elections advanced on the Montana Senate floor Wednesday. Senate Bill 201 allows lawyers with a case before a judge to request the judge’s recusal based on contributions to a prior campaign.
Most Democrats voted against it and say lawyers before a judge can already request recusals for any reason.
Sen. Hertz was the chair of a special interim committee that looked into allegations of bias and misconduct among members of the
Three bills moving through the state Legislature would give lawmakers broader authority to oversee both the judicial and executive branches.
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Ahead of a deadline for general policy bills to advance, Montana lawmakers have voted down four different proposals that would have made judicial elections partisan. But efforts to alter how judges reach the bench aren’t over.
Montana lawmakers are continuing to urge change to how the state’s judiciary operates. One bill to require judicial elections to become partisan has advanced.
A bill to restrict judges’ power to block policies, laws or projects during litigation has passed both chambers of the state Legislature and is headed for the governor’s desk.