The Montana Supreme Court will move forward with six justices to consider the constitutionality of a new law that gives the governor more discretion to appoint judges.
The court will have one empty seat on the bench as justices weigh the policy signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte less than a month ago.
Senate Bill 140 eliminates a judicial nomination commission and provides the governor more power to appoint state district court and Supreme Court vacancies.
With an even number of justices, University of Montana law professor Anthony Johnstone says a split ruling could prevent the court from acting.
“In this case, if there’s no majority there could be no formal decision,” Johnstone said.
The state Supreme Court is left with a vacancy following Chief Justice Mike McGrath recusing himself after reportedly voicing opposition to the bill. A district court judge appointed to replace McGrath recused himself for the same reason.
Many other district court judges also opposed the bill during a February email poll among Montana Judges Association members.
Gianforte’s office has until April 14 to respond to the initial legal challenge filed in March.
Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.