Montana Public Radio

Montana Supreme Court Won't Remove Candidate From Ballot

Aug 11, 2020

The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an effort by the state Republican Party to remove Democratic attorney general candidate Raph Graybill from the November ballot, saying the petition filed on Aug. 3 didn't rise to the level of urgency needed for the issue to bypass state courts.

“Urgency or emergency factors do not spring from a party’s own unexplained dilatory action,” the justices wrote in their 5-0 ruling.

The Montana GOP sought an emergency order to remove Graybill, chief legal counsel to Gov. Steve Bullock, from the ballot, arguing he does not meet the minimum qualifications to be elected attorney general.

Giving the Montana GOP “every benefit of the doubt, it has known since at least early February of Graybill's qualifications — when the alleged eligibility issue was made public,” in a complaint filed with the commissioner of political practices, the justices wrote.

Commissioner Jeff Mangan ruled on Feb. 28 that Graybill will meet the qualification of having “engaged in the practice of law” for five years before the general election. Former legislator Dave Wanzenried, who filed the complaint, did not appeal Mangan's ruling within 30 days. Wanzenried is a Democrat who supported Graybill's opponent in the primary.

At that point, there were nine weeks left until the primary, and the Montana GOP didn't appeal the commissioner's decision, justices noted. Graybill went on to win the Democratic nomination.

The GOP “let eight more weeks pass” before filing its petition just 17 days before the Aug. 20 deadline to certify the general election ballot, justices wrote.

The party “has offered not a single reason in its petition for this extraordinary delay,” the justices wrote. “Nor does it explain why this court should bypass the express statutory process for contesting a nomination or election to office.”

Justices said after reviewing Mangan's ruling and the court's own definition of the practice of law, the court was not persuaded that its extraordinary intervention was needed to prevent constitutional error.

Graybill faces Republican Austin Knudsen, a former speaker of the Montana House, in the Nov. 3 election.

The Montana Democratic Party “…and their trial lawyer cronies have invested millions of dollars in Supreme Court campaigns just so they’ll do their bidding in cases like this,” Knudsen said in a statement. “It is a real shame to see the Supreme Court more interested in pleasing their campaign benefactors than upholding the Constitution.”