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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Lawmakers vote down four proposals to make judicial elections partisan.

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.

Republican legislators proposed adding party affiliation under judges’ names on ballots, either optionally or mandatorily. They argue it would provide voters with more information and add transparency to the courts.

Opponents, including the Montana Bar Association, say the bills would add partisanship into a branch that’s supposed to remain neutral, and result in distrust of the courts.

While those proposals failed, Republican Rep. Bill Mercer, an attorney from Billings, says he plans to bring another option during the second half of the session.

“You will be seeing a constitutional amendment proposal from me, which will seek to place on the ballot a proposal that Supreme Court justices be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate,” Mercer said.

Proposed constitutional referendums require a two-thirds majority vote to pass the Legislature, and only amend the state’s bill of rights if voters approve them.

Two proposals to change the Judicial Standards Commission are also advancing in the statehouse — one to make complaints against judges public and another to add politically-appointed members to the commission.

Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing 
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