Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court

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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

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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

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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

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Plaintiffs sought a declaratory ruling that Mont. Code Ann. 13-35-227(1) violated their constitutional rights to free speech by prohibiting political expenditures by corporations on behalf of or opposing candidates for public office. Plaintiffs argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC barred Montana from prohibiting independent and indirect corporate expenditures on political speech, and that Montana's century-old ban on independent corporate expenditures therefore was invalid. The district court granted ATP's motion for summary judgment on the merits of its constitutional claim, declared section 13-35-227(1) unconstitutional, and denied ATP's request for attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court reversed, concluding (1) the statute was constitutional; and (2) Plaintiffs' cross-appeal on the attorneys' fee issue, therefore, was moot. The Court's decision thereafter was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Montana Supreme Court then returned to ATP's cross-appeal on the issue of attorneys' fees and affirmed the district court's order declining to award attorneys' fees to Plaintiffs, holding that equitable considerations did not require the district court to award fees against the State under either the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act or the private attorney general doctrine. View "W. Tradition P'ship, Inc. v. Attorney Gen." on Justia Law

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LR-123 was enacted by the Montana Legislature in 2011. It proposed a vote in the November 2012 general election on whether to provide a tax credit and potential tax refund, or outright State payment, to individuals in years in which there is a certain level of projected surplus revenue. Plaintiffs filed a complaint contending LR-123 was unconstitutional because it unlawfully delegated legislative powers. The constitutional issue in this case turned upon whether LR-123 impermissibly delegated legislative power to an employee (the legislative fiscal analyst) of one of the Legislature's committees. The district court found that LR-123 unconstitutionally delegated legislative power to the legislative fiscal analyst. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that LR-123 was unconstitutional on its face and therefore may not appear on the ballot in November 2012. View "MEA-MFT v. McCulloch" on Justia Law

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Petitioners brought an original proceeding to the Supreme Court to challenge the validity of Initiative 166. They requested the Court rule that the Attorney General and Secretary of State did not comply with their responsibilities under law when they failed to bar I-166 from appearing on the general election ballot. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Attorney General and Secretary of State acted in compliance with their duties under law, and that the initiative met all statutory requirements. Accordingly, the Court denied the petition. View "Montanans Opposed to I-166 v. Bullock" on Justia Law

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The Montana Legislature enacted Senate Bill 268 (SB 268), which submitted to the electorate the question whether certain statutory changes should be made regarding the election of justices to the Montana Supreme Court. SB 268 was to be submitted to the voters at a special election and was to appear on the ballot as Legislative Referendum No. 119 (LR-119). Plaintiffs, Montana citizens, taxpayers, and electors, sought a declaratory judgment that LR-119 was constitutionally defective. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs and ordered the Secretary of State to decertify LR-119 and enjoined the Secretary from presenting LR-119 on the election ballot. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the non-retiring justices on the Court were not required to recuse themselves from participating in the decision of this appeal; (2) Plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to LR-119 was justiciable; (3) LR-119's proposed amendments to the qualifications and structure of the Supreme Court were facially unconstitutional; and (4) the constitutionally infirm provisions of LR-119 were not severable from the remainder of the referendum. View "Reichert v. State" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Western Tradition Partnership (WTP), Champion Painting, and Montana Shooting Sports Foundation (MSSF), sued the Montana Attorney General and the Commissioner of Political Practices, seeking a declaration that Mont. Code Ann. 13-35-227(1) violated their freedom of speech protected by the state and federal Constitutions by prohibiting political expenditures by corporations on behalf of or opposing candidates for public office. The district court declared the statute unconstitutional, granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs, enjoined enforcement of the statute, and denied the motion of Champion and MSSF for an award of attorney fees. The Supreme Court reversed and entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants after applying the principles enunciated in Citizens United v. F.E.C., holding that Montana has a compelling interest to impose the challenged rationally-tailored statutory restrictions. View "Western Tradition P'ship v. Attorney General" on Justia Law