Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court upheld the order of the district court prohibiting the office of the Secretary of State from qualifying the Montana Green Party as a minor party eligible for the 2020 election ballot, holding that the district court did not err.Mont. Code Ann. 13-10-601(2) requires the political party seeking to nominate its candidates through a primary election to present the petition seeking to hold a primary election to select the party's noises for office and to obtain ballot access for those nominees for the November 2020 general election to election administrators. The Montana Green Party was not involved and did not endorse the petition process at the time the signatures were gathered and presented to election administrators. The district court concluded that the petition failed to meet the requirements of section 13-10-601(2) and enjoined the Secretary from giving any effect to the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the petition failed to satisfy the statutory requirements of section 13-10-601(2). View "Montana Democratic Party v. Stapleton" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Matthew Monforton's petition for judicial review of a final agency decision by the office of the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) dismissing an ethics complaint that Monforton had lodged against Jonathan Motl based on statements that Motl had made during a radio interview, holding that Motl's statements did not violate Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-136(4) of the Montana Code of Ethics.In his complaint, Monforton alleged that Motl's statements during a radio interview constituted improper election advocacy in violation of section 2-2-121(3)(a), an ethics rule that prohibits public officers and employees from using "public time, facilities, [and] equipment" to "solicit support for or opposition to the...election of a person to public office." The deputy COPP dismissed the ethics complaint. The district court upheld the dismissal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court's decision to uphold the dismissal of Monforton's ethics complaint on the basis that Motl's statements did not constitute unlawful opposition to the election at issue under section 2-2-121(3)(a). View "Monforton v. Motl" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying Appellant's motion for attorney fees under either the private attorney general doctrine or Mont. Code Ann. 13-36-205, holding that the district court abused its discretion in denying fees under the private attorney general doctrine.Appellant won the primary election for the Republican nomination for Sheriff of Musselshell County. Appellant's opponent, Ronnie Burns, filed a petition for a court-ordered recount. The court ordered a recount with parameters set forth by Burns. Appellant intervened in the case and sought an emergency hearing to challenge the parameters as violations of Mont. Code Ann. 13-15-206. The district court found that the parameters were inconsistent with the requirements of the statute and vacated its prior orders. The court subsequently concluded that Appellant had not met the criteria for an award of attorney fees pursuant to the private attorney general doctrine. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion in denying attorney fees to Appellant because the County's actions required Appellant to defend the electoral process for the benefit of all County voters, not merely to exercise his rights to be heard in the proceedings and to be present and represented at any recount. View "Burns v. County of Musselshell" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court invalidating the Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s (Secretary) act of certifying the eligibility of the Montana Green Party to nominate candidates for election to public officers in Montana, holding that the district court did not erroneously invalidate eighty-seven signatures due to noncompliance with Mont. Code Ann. 13-10-601(2).Plaintiffs filed this complaint seeking declaratory judgment that the Secretary’s Green Party certification was invalid due to noncompliance with section 13-10-601(2). The district court invalidated the certification and enjoined the Secretary from giving any effect to the Green Party ballot eligibility petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs’ claim for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the legal sufficiency of the petition and the Secretary’s certification of the petition stated a cognizable claim for relief; (2) Plaintiffs’ claim did not involve a non-justiciable political question; (3) the Montana Democratic Party had legal standing to challenge the petition and the Secretary’s resulting certification thereof; and (4) the district court did not err in invalidating eighty-seven signatures due to noncompliance with the statute. View "Larson v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

by
In this original action, the Supreme Court denied Montanans Against Tax Hikes’s petition for declaratory and injunctive relief to determine whether the ballot statement of Initiative 185 (I-185) met the requirements of Mont. Code Ann. 13-27-312, holding that the Attorney General’s ballot statement satisfied the requirements of Montana law.I-185 raised taxes on all tobacco products and amended the definition to include e-cigarettes and vaping products. Petitioners argued that the ballot statement was deficient because it contained false information that was likely to confuse voters, disagreed with the language of the last sentence in the ballot statement, and contended that the ballot statement provided no useful context for the tax increase on moist snuff. The Supreme Court held (1) while the ballot statement may contain a mathematical misstatement, this Court need not alter a technical mistake; (2) the last sentence is not misleading; and (3) not every detail of an initiative can be explained given the word limit on ballot statements. View "Montanans Against Tax Hikes v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court denied the Montana Mining Association’s (MMA) request to overrule the Attorney General’s determination that Initiative 186 (I-186) is legally sufficient in this original proceeding.If enacted, I-186 would alter the mine permitting process by adding a requirement to mines’ reclamation plans. The Attorney General determined that the initiative was legally sufficient. MMA filed this original action asking the Supreme Court to determine that I-186 violates Mont. Code Ann. 13-27-105, which requires that an initiative issue delegating rulemaking authority be “effective no sooner than October 1 following approval.” The Supreme Court denied MMA’s request, holding that the issue of whether I-186 delegates rulemaking authority is outside the scope of the Attorney General’s legal-suffiency review, and therefore, the issue is also outside the scope of the Supreme Court’s pre-election initiative review. View "Montana Mining Ass’n v. State" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s orders denying certain elected officers attorney fees, costs, and disbursements, holding that equities did not support such awards under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA).Lynn Nemeth, a Whitehall elector, sought a recall election to determine whether the mayor of Whitehall and some Town Council members (collectively, the Elected Officers) should be recalled from their respective positions. The district court granted the Elected Officers’ petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment, finding that Nemeth’s recall petitions and circulation sheets did not substantially conform to the statutory forms. The district court eventually decided that the Elected Officers were not entitled to attorneys fees or costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the equities did not support awarding fees and costs under the UDJA because the proper way to stop a recall election based on an insufficient recall petition is to request an injunction pursuant to the Montana Recall Act; and (2) the Elected Officers were not entitled to attorney fees and costs under either Mont. Code Ann. 25-10-711(1)(b) or Mont. Code Ann. 25-10-101(8). View "Davis v. Ramey" on Justia Law

by
Initiative No. 181 (I-181) proposed to enact the “Montana Biomedical Research Authority Act.” The Secretary of State determined that sufficient signatures had been submitted to qualify I-181 for the November 8, 2016 general election ballot. Petitioners filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief requesting that the Supreme Court exercise its original jurisdiction to declare I-181 unconstitutional on its face and to enjoin its certification for the November 2016 general election ballot. The Supreme Court denied Petitioners’ request without prejudice to the filing of an appropriate civil action should the measure become law, as I-181 was not a “law.” View "Montana AFL-CIO v. McCulloch" on Justia Law

by
In 2012, Montana voters passed Legislative Referendum 121 (LR 121). The referendum denied certain state services to “illegal aliens.” Before the law went into effect, Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (MIJA) filed a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from LR 121, arguing that the referendum violated certain constitutional rights and was preempted by federal law. The district court denied Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction as to the majority of LR 121 but enjoined the use of the definition of “illegal alien” so as to preclude the State from using an individual’s unlawful entry into the United States as a factor in determining that individual’s entitlement to state benefits. The district court subsequently concluded that LR 121 was preempted by federal law. The court then awarded MIJA attorney fees. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that MIJA has associational standing to challenge LR 121; (2) did not err in concluding that LR 121 is preempted by federal law; and (3) erred in awarding “supplemental relief” to MIJA in the form of attorney fees. View "Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance v. Bullock" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner served two terms as a Public Service Commissioner (PSC). While serving his first term at the PSC, Respondent, campaign manager for Petitioner's opponent in the upcoming election, filed four complaints against Petitioner with the Commissioner of Political Practices (Commissioner), alleging that Petitioner had violated the statutory Code of Ethics by accepting gifts of substantial value from two corporations with which the PSC regularly dealt and by using state resources to aid his reelection campaign and for personal business. Following a three-day hearing on Respondent's complaints, a hearing examiner determined that Petitioner violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-104 two times by receiving "gifts of substantial value" and violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-121 five times by using state facilities and equipment for election purposes. The Commissioner affirmed, ordering Petitioner to pay $5,750 in fines and $14,945 for the costs of the hearing. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by concluding (1) Respondent had legal standing to file ethics complaints against Petitioner; (2) Petitioner received unlawful gifts; (3) Petitioner improperly used State facilities for political purposes; and (4) the penalty statute for ethics violations was not unconstitutionally vague. View "Molnar v. Fox" on Justia Law