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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana lawmakers pass bill restricting judicial powers

The doors to the Montana Supreme Court chambers.
Shaylee Ragar

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. It’s part of a broader Republican effort to regulate the judiciary.

After passing a final vote in the Montana House of Representatives, the fate of Senate Bill 191 is now up to the governor. The bill would raise the threshold that a case must meet before a judge can issue a temporary block, which is a tool used to maintain the status quo while a lawsuit plays out.

Speaker of the House, Matt Regier, said the bill would be an important check on the judiciary’s power.

“It’s no secret there, we’ve had our differences there with our checks and balances on the judicial branch. And I believe they need some help,” Regier said.

Legislative Republicans have been sparring for two years with the state’s judicial branch over allegations of bias and misconduct, which judges have denied. Conservative lawmakers have called state judges “activists” on several occasions when they temporarily blocked laws passed by the Republican majority in the Legislature.

The bill would also bar judges from issuing temporary restraining orders against state entities without prior notice, except in emergency circumstances.

Democrats say the bill would hamper an important safety net that courts provide. They also say they’re worried about the pace at which the bill passed. It was heard and voted on in the House Judiciary Committee on the same day, and made it to the House floor a day later.

House Minority Leader, Kim Abbott, said legislators didn’t have enough time to research the bill before voting on it.

“It’s an unacceptable way to do business in this building,” Abbott said.

Gov. Gianforte will now decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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