Group Sues to Block Supreme Court Vote Referendum

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A group is suing to block a 2012 ballot measure that would require Montana Supreme Court justices to be elected from regional districts.

The Montana Legislature placed the constitutional change on the June primary ballot. If successful, each justice would be elected from seven new judicial districts. Supporters argue the justices would be more responsive to local citizens and make sure each part of the state was represented on the court.

A group of voters who filed the lawsuit Wednesday included several delegates to the 1972 Constitutional Convention, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported. They argue the ballot measure would illegally amend the Constitution and therefore should be stricken from the ballot.

The lawsuit also argues that Legislative Referendum 119 would restrict the right of voters to choose any Supreme Court justice candidate, and could disqualify Supreme Court candidates who succeed in the June 2012 primary election.

“The referendum is illegal, unconstitutional and void, in that it deprives (voters) of their right to vote for certain Supreme Court candidates,” said the suit, which was filed in state District Court at Helena.

Currently, the seven Montana Supreme Court justices are elected statewide to eight-year terms.

Legal groups and civil rights groups opposed the measure during the Legislature. They argued it would encourage judicial activism as well as violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday argued that LR-119 wrongly amends several sections of the state constitution that set out qualifications for Supreme Court justice candidates and the selection of the court’s chief justice.

They also argue the proposal did not have enough legislative support to be placed on the ballot.