As the Montana Supreme Court settled whether Senate Bill 140 is constitutional – and whether the governor can appoint judges directly – the court addressed another case in its 49-page ruling on Thursday. .

Six justices agreed with the courts’ ruling that SB140 is constitutional, with Justice Laurie McKinnon dissenting. However, Judge Jim Rice, in a concurring opinion, agreed with the majority, but not before addressing the issue of how the case was conducted, in particular berating the Legislature and Attorney General Austin Knudsen for the way he handled the process and his failure to respect the constitutional separation of powers.

Rice recounted that the Supreme Court authorized the legislature – represented by Knudsen – to intervene in the case, but on condition that it complies with the court orders.

“The legislature has thus clearly demonstrated that it intervened in these proceedings by distorting its position before this Court, as well as to counsel for the opposing party. These actions were dishonest and contemptuous, ”Rice wrote. “The legitimate consequence of these actions would be to revoke the intervention of the legislature, to strike its brief and to consider with caution any future requests made to this court by the legislature. Similar penalties would also be appropriate imposed on the Department of Justice for its contemptuous actions herein.

“My initial thought was to ask the court to impose these penalties, but a second thought prevailed: until the legislature and the Department of Justice could demonstrate a good understanding of the constitutional authority of the judiciary, it There is little hope that they can understand the outrage to it. “

In response, the attorney general’s office berated Rice’s comments towards Knudsen in the public opinion.

“The attorney general’s office is responsible for reporting misconduct and ensuring the administration of justice in Montana,” Emilee Cantrell, press secretary for the Montana Department of Justice, said in a statement. “Judge Rice’s emotional rant and personal attacks are a transparent ploy to distract from his own inappropriate behavior in this case.”

After: Montana AG accuses Supreme Court of impropriety, threat and slander against its staff

Previously, the legislature had issued a subpoena for courtroom administrator Beth McLaughlin’s email, and also issued subpoenas to each judge sitting on the High Court. Even though the judges quashed legislative subpoenas, Knudsen and the legislature remained defiant, sending letters to the high court, including refusing to obey it, claiming it lacked the proper jurisdiction to issue.

“The surprising thing about the letter from the Department of Justice was the ignorance of the history and long-established legal precedents it embodied, for, since the early 1800s,” the idea that the Supreme Court had the power to rule on constitutional matters and that its decisions were final and binding on the other two departments was widely accepted, ”Rice said, citing a textbook on the history of the US Constitution.

However, Rice’s opinion cautions that her concerns are not simply academic or historical.

“Reality is what makes the challenge of the attorney general of court orders in this case so disruptive to our constitutional system – the judiciary often has to rely on the executive power for the execution of its orders and the transmission of the law. “Judgment” that the judiciary has been empowered to provide, “Rice writes. “By repeatedly refusing to comply, the Attorney General is engaging in actions that are destructive to our democratic system of government.”

The Daily Montanan is a Helena-based nonprofit media outlet covering politics and politics statewide. It is an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501 (c) (3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers.

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