Montana Public Radio

Legislature Plans Post-Session Judicial Branch Investigation

Apr 23, 2021

Montana lawmakers plan to continue their investigation into alleged bias in the state’s judicial branch after the 2021 legislative session ends.

Republican Chair Sen. Greg Hertz said there is "no doubt" the Special Joint Select Committee on Judicial Transparency and Accountability will continue into the interim, and that the work will require funding from the Legislature. 

The committee is investigating allegations of bias among judges and state Supreme Court justices over their views of legislation that could face legal challenges if passed into law. Lawmakers are also alleging that Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin misused state resources to lobby on behalf of justices.

"It looks as if they may not be following all of their rules and they're not following state staturtes, so at that point in time, do we let them continue to do that, or do we as the legislative branch conduct a hearing such as this to look into working with the judicial branch, asking them questions?" Hertz said.

Democrats have pushed back against the investigation. 

House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said during a meeting that the judicial branch already has an independent board that acts as a check on its power, and that the investigation violates the separation of powers between branches of government.

"The scope of this select committee — and the activities of this select committee — the tone of this select committee and the questions and narrative we’re creating concern me and alarm me in terms of separation of powers, and [of] checks and balances," Abbott said.

Hertz said the committee will likely present a report to the rest of the Legislature about its findings so far next week.