Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Montana Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing for failure to state a claim Plaintiff's complaint against the Secretary of State and the Gallatin County Election Administrator alleging that they violated Montana election laws and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, holding that the district court did not err.Plaintiff, who sought to run as an Independent candidate for Montana Attorney General in the 2020 general election, brought the complaint alleging that Defendants violated Montana election laws and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act when they rejected his petition for nomination forms because they contained only electronic signatures. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to state a claim that would entitle him to relief. View "Meyer v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court denying as untimely the motion of the Montana Secretary of State to substitute a judge, holding that the Secretary's motion to substitute a judge was timely, and the district court erred by denying the motion.Plaintiff brought this action challenging HB 325, a bill that would alter the election process for state Supreme Court justices if passed by ballot referendum in November 2022, alleging that the bill violated the Montana Constitution. The Secretary moved to substitute the district court judge. The district court denied the substitution motion as untimely. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a lawsuit filed against the Secretary of State is a lawsuit against "the State," such that service of process is not complete until the date the Attorney General is served. View "McDonald v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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In this original proceeding, the Supreme Court ordered that the motion filed by the Montana State Legislature "for the immediate disqualification of all Justices" of the Montana Supreme Court be denied, holding that the Legislature was not entitled to relief.In an original proceeding, the Legislature, as an intervenor, and Governor Greg Gianforte raised concerns about a survey conducted by the Montana Judges Association of its members facilitated by Beth McLaughlin, the Judicial Branch's Court Administrator, regarding Senate Bill 140, which has since been signed into law and changes the way the Governor fills vacancies for judges and justices in the state. At issue was an investigative subpoena the Legislature issued to the Department of Administration seeking the production of emails sent and received by McLaughlin between certain dates. McLaughlin sought to quash or enjoy enforcement of the subpoena, which began the instant proceeding. The Legislature subsequently issued a subpoena to each justice of the Montana Supreme Court demanding that each justice produce the emails subject to the investigative subpoena and then filed a motion to disqualify the justices. The Supreme Court denied the motion, holding that the Legislature was not entitled to its request. View "McLaughlin v. Montana Legislature" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the Montana Republican Party and denying the motion for summary judgment filed by the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) in this campaign finance complaint, holding that the district court did not err in determining that COPP lacked authority to issue a subpoena for production of documents.The Montana Democratic Party filed a campaign finance complaint with COPP alleging that the Montana Republican Party had failed to comply with statutory reporting and disclosure requirements. As part of its investigation, COPP issued a subpoena for production of documents, commanding the Republican Party to produce specified documents relating to campaign practices and expenditures. COPP issued the subpoena pursuant to the authority of Mont. Code Ann. 13-37-111. The district court granted summary judgment to the Republican Party, concluding that section 13-37-111 did not confer COPP with the authority to issue subpoenas for documents. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err. View "Commissioner of Political Practices v. Republican Party" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court order temporarily enjoining two Montana election laws, holding that the court erred by enjoining a ballot deadline.At issue was the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction regarding two election laws. One law required absentee ballots to be returned to local election officers no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day and the other law restricted the delivery of such ballots by persons other than the elector. The Supreme Court affirmed the preliminary injunction against the Ballot Interference Prevention Act (BIPA) and vacated the preliminary injunction against the election-day ballot-receipt deadline, holding (1) the district court did not manifestly abuse its discretion by granting the preliminary injunction against enforcement of BIPA; and (2) the district court erred by enjoining the ballot deadline. View "Driscoll v. Stapleton" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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