Skees’ Court-Shrinking Bill Doesn’t Get Far

By Beacon Staff

Over at James Conner’s Flathead Memo blog, he’s got video of freshman state Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, receiving a mild rebuke from a senior Republican over a bill Skees presented to the House Judiciary Committee to reduce the size of the Montana Supreme Court from seven justices to five. Skees’ House Bill 245 was tabled Jan. 21.

Skees’ argument for the bill was essentially that reducing the size of the Supreme Court could save money, and decrease the power of the judicial branch of Montana’s government, thus enhancing the power of the legislative branch, which only meets for 90 days every two years. Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings and the chairman of the committee, while agreeing with Skees’ broader point about the legislative branch being unnecessarily weak, particularly when it comes to state agencies under the executive branch, evidently disagreed with the need to fire two Supreme Court justices. There also might have been a small bit of state house hazing here for Skees, a freshman legislator clearly a bit nervous about presenting his first bill.

Peterson: Mr. Skees, I’m wondering what type of investigation you did before bringing this bill. Did you talk to members of the Supreme Court, former members of the Supreme Court? Did you talk to any of the Supreme Court administration or personnel?

Skees: No sir. But I did talk to quite a few attorneys, but it’s funny when you ask them to come testify on this a lot of them said, ‘Nah, Derek, you can go ahead and take the spear, we’re right there with you.’ To be honest, sir, I don’t have any Supreme Court justices in my phone. I would love to have called them and talked to them.

Peterson: Where are you from?

Skees: I’m from Flathead County.

Peterson: There’s an ex-Supreme Court justice that lives up there by the name of Diane Barz. I don’t know whether you know Judge Barz or not but I can tell you Judge Barz resigned from the Supreme Court because of the workload. She didn’t have one waking hour that she didn’t have to be doing something on reading briefs, reading other things, reading decisions, proposed decisions and she resigned from the Supreme Court for that reason. I just suggest maybe you might want to talk to her.

Skees: That sounds a lot like our 90 days.

Peterson: Sometimes. I’m wondering, do you have a bill that deals with reducing the size of the Legislature?

Skees: No sir, no sir.

Peterson: Your bill would reduce the size of the judiciary to the constitutional minimum, right?

Skees: Yes sir.

Peterson: Are you familiar with Article 5 Section 2 of the Constitution?

Skees: Yes sir.

Peterson: You could reduce the Legislature. The Senate to 40 and the House to 80.

Skees: I’ll tell you what sir, let me reduce the Supreme Court and next time I’ll do that.

Peterson: I’m wondering why, since you’re a member of the Legislature, why you haven’t done it this time, instead of the Supreme Court that you said you really don’t know anything anything about?

Here’s the video, as excerpted by James Conner:

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.