Articles Posted in Election Law

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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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In 2014, the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) issued a decision finding sufficient evidence that Terry Bannan had violated Montana’s campaign practices laws during the 2010 primary election and that civil adjudication of the violations was warranted. The COPP forwarded the sufficiency decision to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney for consideration. Bannan filed an action for declaratory relief in the Gallatin County District Court alleging that the COPP acted unlawfully by referring its sufficiency findings to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney rather than the Gallatin County Attorney. The Lewis and Clark County Attorney waived his right to participate in the action, citing Mont. Code Ann. 13-37-124(2). Thereafter, the COPP filed an enforcement action against Bannan in the Lewis and Clark County District Court. Bannan filed a motion to dismiss, contending that the COPP was obligated to assert its claims in the Gallatin County declaratory judgment action. The district court in Lewis and Clark County denied Bannan’s motion to dismiss. Bannan appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed Bannan’s appeal as premature, holding that Bannan’s appeal must be characterized as one seeking relief from the denial of a motion to dismiss, and orders denying motions to dismiss are not appealable. View "Motl v. Bannan" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP) issued a decision finding sufficient evidence that Ronald Murray had violated Montana’s campaign practices laws during the 2010 primary election and that civil adjudication of the violations was warranted. COPP forwarded the sufficiency decision to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney for consideration. Murray filed an action for declaratory relief in the Gallatin County District Court seeking a determination that Jonathan Motl, in his capacity as the COPP, violated Mont. Code Ann. 13-37-124 by referring the sufficiency decision to the Lewis and Clark County Attorney rather than the Gallatin County Attorney. Thereafter, the COPP filed a complaint against Murray in the Lewis and Clark County District Court (the “enforcement action”) alleging the various campaign finance and practice violations in the sufficiency decision. The district court in Gallatin County dismissed Murray’s declaratory relief action for lack of a justiciable controversy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Murray’s declaratory relief action, as Murray had an adequate alternative remedy available to him in that he may assert in the enforcement action issues sought to be declared as a defense in the declaratory action. View "Murray v. Motl" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law

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Plaintiff was a candidate in 2010 for the State Senate in Senate District 31, which included all of Park County and most of Sweet Grass County. The Commissioner of Political Practices filed a civil enforcement action against Plaintiff in the Lewis and Clark County District Court following an investigation of alleged violations of campaign practice and finance laws. Plaintiff initiated a declaratory action in the Sixth Judicial District Court, Park County, raising issues similar to those raised in the enforcement action. The Sixth Judicial District Court, ordered, sua sponte, that the declaratory judgment action be transferred to Lewis and Clark County. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) as to Plaintiff, the declaratory action in Park County was duplicative, and this was an appropriate basis on which to transfer the matter; but (2) the district court’s transfer of the action to a specific department and judge within the the First Judicial District was improper. View "Wagman v. Motl" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Lawrence J.C. VanDyke filed his declaration of nomination as a candidate for election to the Montana Supreme Court. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a complaint in the district court seeking to have VanDyke’s candidacy invalidated on the basis that VanDyke was not admitted to the practice of law in Montana for at least five years prior to the date of election as required by the Montana Constitution. The district court ruled that VanDyke did not meet the minimum eligibility requirements because, although VanDyke was a member of the State Bar of Montana continuously from 2005 to the present day, when VanDyke elected to assume inactive status from 2007 until 2012, he was not authorized or qualified to practice law. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that VanDyke’s admission to the practice of law in Montana in 2005 satisfied the Constitution’s requirement that a candidate for Supreme Court Justice be “admitted to the practice of law in Montana for at least five years prior to the date of appointment or election,” notwithstanding VanDyke’s choice to take inactive status for some of those years. View "Cross v. VanDyke" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the City of Whitefish passed Resolution 10-46, which authorized the City to enter into an interlocal agreement with Flathead County concerning planning and zoning authority over a two-mile area surrounding the City. In 2011, voters in Whitehead passed a referendum repealing the Resolution. Plaintiffs, residents of the City and the County, filed the present lawsuit claiming that the citizens’ power of referendum and initiative did not extend to the Resolution. The district court agreed with Plaintiffs and granted summary judgment to Plaintiffs and the County. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err by not dismissing the suit as untimely based upon the doctrine of laches; and (2) did not err by determining that the Resolution was not subject to the right of voter initiative and referendum because the Resolution was an administrative act by the City.View "Phillips v. City of Whitefish" on Justia Law

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Petitioners filed a combined petition challenging the legal sufficiency of Initiative No. 171 (I-171), a proposed ballot measure that would prohibit the state and its political subdivisions from using funds, resources, or personnel to administer or enforce the federal Affordable Care Act, among other things. Petitioners sought an order enjoining the Secretary of State from approving petitions for circulation to the electorate for signatures or otherwise submitting the measure for approval by the voters and further sought a declaration that I-171 was unconstitutional and void. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding (1) the Attorney General correctly determined that I-171 was legally sufficient; and (2) the ballot statements for I-171 satisfy the requirements of law. View "Hoffman v. State" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, registered voters seeking to invalidate the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission’s (Commission) assignment of two “holdover senators” in its final 2013 redistricting plan, filed a complaint against the State and Secretary of State (collectively, "State") seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment and denied Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that (1) the Commission did not violate the public’s “right to know”; (2) the Commission is part of the legislative branch and is not an agency, and that it is therefore exempt from statutes promulgating the right of participation; and (3) Plaintiffs’ argument that the Commission violated Plaintiffs’ right of suffrage was without merit. View "Willems v. State" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Montana Legislature enacted Legislative Referendum 127 (LR-127) as a referendum to be put to a public vote at the time of the November 2014 general election. Petitioners filed a petition challenging the legal sufficiency of LR-127, alleging that the Attorney General’s legal review of the proposed ballot measure was incorrect and seeking to enjoin the State from placing the measure on the general election ballot. The Supreme Court ordered that the State was enjoined from placing LR-127 on the 2014 general election ballot, holding that the proposed ballot measure was not legally sufficient because the title of LR-127 did not comply with the plain meaning of the Legislature’s 100-word limit found in Mont. Code Ann. 5-4-102. View "MEA-MFT v. Fox" on Justia Law