Montana Supreme Court Ignores Constitution
On Redistricting Commission Appointment
Montana’s 2020 redistricting commission is in charge of redrawing the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts based on the latest population data, a process that happens every 10 years.
The process is accomplished through a commission that originates in the Montana Legislature. Two democrats and two republicans are picked from the pool of legislators to serve on the commission, and the war begins.
The four members of the commission are then tasked with accepting the nomination of a fifth member to serve as a political tie breaker. Citizens at large are invited to submit a letter of interest.
The four members of the commission then review all applicants and make the decision. No elected official nomination can me made by the justices nor can such nomination be accepted.
Since the redistricting process began following the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, Democrats v. Republicans have been at odds on accepting the fifth member every cycle.
The Constitution in this case then refers the process to the Montana Supreme Court. On Tuesday the Montana Supreme Court held an open public meeting to provide what they called transparency on their decision regarding the redistricting commission.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath officiated the public meeting, with 5 justices in the room and 2 others were on conference video call connection.
All appointed justices are purportedly non political. Under this premise, a fair and balanced non political appointment can be made.
However the members of the Supreme Court are given the authority to take these matters into their own hands.
Behind closed doors, the judges rejected all the applicants that were submitted to the commission for appointment without notice. At that point, they gathered together to recruit from their own pool of potential candidates.
The selection process traditionally begins with their fellow members of the Montana Bar Association including other judges.
Chief Justice McGrath then opened the public meeting to public comment. Commission member Jeff Essman addressed the members of the court with concerns.
Mr. Essman brought forward a concern that the constitutional rights of the people – the right to participate – are being overlooked.
Two of the applicants that were rejected by the commission voiced concern over the lack of transparency in the process. Both citizens requested a more open process on behalf of the people of Montana.
Article II Section 8 of the Constitution of Montana provides the people the right to participate in the proceedings.
Nominations from members of the justices began with 2 judges. Justice Baker renounced the gender makeup of the commission and brought forward her female nomination.
A motion was made by the court to continue the process to afford the citizens of Montana the right to participate in the proceedings with another public meeting. Chief Justice McGrath disagreed with providing the people that opportunity and the motion failed.
Sheila Stearns, a past commissioner of higher education, received a nomination. Ms. Stearns will join Republican Jeff Essmann and Attorney Dan Stusek, along with representatives from the democratic party Joe Lamson and Kendra Miller. The commission will do a full analysis of the 2020 census and determine changes in legislative districts based on those population results.
Justice McKinnon declined to show interest in our coverage, and continually provided the above photo-op showing contempt. In the end,the justices concurred with the nomination ending the process for the redistricting commission appointments.
The 2020 census will re-evaluate the legislative districts based on population levels. This will include the potential gain of a 2nd United States Congressional Seat for Montana.
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