The commonly asserted claim that home prices are rapidly escalating because of out-of-staters coming to Montana to escape the economic and social restraints in other states because of the COVID-19 pandemic, might not be as true as most have accepted it to be – at least not in Missoula.

Data gathered from Realtors in Missoula and lenders do not support that commonly asserted claim, as much as one might expect. In an examination of where customers of Missoula mortgage lenders are coming from indicates that much of the home buying is going on because of Montanans moving to different communities. Only about 13 – 19 percent of the borrowers were coming from out- of- state.

Washington and California represented the largest sector of buyers arriving from outside Missoula. Oregon, Colorado and Kentucky also made the list, as did Ohio, New York and Illinois.

Interestingly in monitoring “home searches” by people who were looking for a new home, two percent of those exploring Missoula’s market came from Bozeman. Most were from Seattle, followed by Salt Lake City, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

No matter where they are coming from the demand in Missoula, as in most areas of the state, exceeds supply. In the first quarter this year, Missoula’s median home price jumped 20 percent, following a 11 percent increase last year. The median price is currently $420,000.

The Western Heritage Center (WHC) has received a $12,500 Challenge donation from Stockman Bank in support of the Center’s 50th Anniversary Landscaping Project. Stockman will match donations up to a total of $12,500.

“Through its exhibits, walking tours, traveling displays and historic artifacts, WHC continues to give our community a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people, places and historical events of south-central and southeastern Montana,” stated Bill Coffee, Stockman Bank CEO. “As Montana’s premier community bank, we are committed to supporting the health and well-being of the communities we serve. We congratulate the Center on its 50 years of service and are proud to support their continued dedication in preserving and sharing our regional history.”

The Stockman Challenge gift will help WHC meet its fundraising goal for its 50th Anniversary Landscaping Project.  “2021 marks not only the 50th Anniversary of the Western Heritage Center, but also the 120th Anniversary of our home base, the historical Parmly Billings Library,” said Kevin Kooistra, Executive Director. “We feel this is the right time to make much needed landscaping improvements to revitalize and celebrate the beauty of this historical building and all of the history it holds.”

The Landscape Project targets the west side and front of the Center with new, decorative planters, walkways and four historical interpretive panels. Land Design, Inc. (Stacey Robinson, Principal) provided the initial consultation and design. The project will revitalize the museum grounds on the corner of Montana Avenue and North 29th. Plans are to break ground in early summer of 2021.

How to Donate

Stockman Bank will match donations, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $12,500 through July 31, 2021. Matching contributions can be made via mail or by phone. To have a gift matched, simply make a donation between now and July 31 online at www.ywhc.org or call the Western Heritage office (406) 256-6809. Gifts can also be mailed to Western Heritage Center, 2822

Montana Avenue, Billings, MT 59101. Be sure to indicate your gift is for the 50th Anniversary Landscaping Project.

MSU Billings and Northwest College have established a 2+2 partnership that will allow Northwest College graduates who have completed an Associate of Science degree the opportunity to seamlessly transition to a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree with the general business, accounting, finance, management, or marketing degree option at MSU Billings.

“We’re excited to partner with Northwest College to create a streamlined pathway for their graduates to further their educational opportunities. Their students are a good fit to finish their degree at MSUB. Our College of Business is AACSB accredited and properly prepares our graduates for the workforce,” said MSUB Chancellor Stefani Hicswa.

Interim President Lisa Watson noted, “For many students at Northwest College, finding a university with good programs and flexibility is key. Many of our students are also regionally close and like the feel of a smaller institution. Creating a 2+2 partnership with MSU Billings for the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration is a wonderful fit designed to support our students and their success for years to come.”

Northwest College graduates who choose to participate in the 2+2 program will be able to obtain an MSUB business bachelor’s degree completely online or in person in two years assuming they are full-time students. They will also be afforded the same treatment and protection as other MSUB students enrolled and the criteria for acceptance into MSUB is the same.

Wyoming and Montana are part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program, which is an agreement among Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s 16 member states and territories, through which 160+ participating public colleges and universities provide significant nonresident tuition savings for western students. Through WUE, eligible students can choose from hundreds of undergraduate programs outside their home state and pay no more than 150 percent of that institution’s resident tuition rate. Since full nonresident college-tuition rates may exceed 300 percent of resident rates, WUE increases affordable higher-education choices for students, and minimizes the adverse impacts of student loan debt.

A campaign to bring Montana’s progeny back home has been launched.

Governor Greg Gianforte announced a website as part of the administration’s new campaign to encourage Montanans, who have moved to other states, to come back home to Montana.

“For too long, Montana’s most valuable export has been our kids and grandkids,” Gov. Gianforte said. “Our quality of life is second to none, and we’re reminding former residents of what a great place Montana is to live, work, and raise a family. We’re growing opportunities and creating an environment so more Montanans can thrive and prosper. Let’s bring our kids and grandkids back home.”

The campaign and new website, ComeHomeMontana.com, encourage Montanans who have relocated to other states to return to Montana to work remotely, start a business here, or take advantage of job opportunities across the state’s industries.

To bridge the digital divide and make working remotely more accessible than ever, the administration is in early stages of deploying $275 million for broadband expansion.

In addition to highlighting opportunities for remote work and employment, the campaign highlights the value of a Montana education.

In a joint-letter with governors from South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa, Governor Greg Gianforte has urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to continue their investigation into serious allegations of anticompetitive behavior in the meatpacking industry.

“Decades of consolidation in meatpacking has significantly limited the options that producers have to market their cattle and has created a situation where one segment of the beef industry has near total control over the entire market,” Governor Gianforte and other governors wrote to U.S. Attorney General Garland. “We urge you to continue to investigate this matter with the urgency it calls for.”

In May 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the nation’s four largest meatpackers whose anticompetitive behavior is threatening Montana cattle producers.

As outlined in the letter, the price of cattle has decreased in recent years while the price of boxed beef has skyrocketed. The result is higher prices for consumers at the grocery store and declining profit margins for cattle producers in Montana. 

“The loss of the independent cattle producer would devastate not only ranching families and the rural communities they support, but the very health and spirit of our nation,” the governors emphasized. “Producers and consumers deserve fairness and transparency now more than ever.”

Governor Gianforte was joined in signing the letter by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt

Billings Clinic Internal Medicine Residency announced the fifth class of graduates of the Internal Medicine Residency program. A commencement ceremony on June 4 honored the ten physicians who completed the three-year residency and the four physicians who completed a one-year preliminary program required for future specialty residency training. The graduates are:

* Jay Brahmbhatt, MD, will practice as a hospitalist at the university of Washington in Seattle, WA.

* Conrad Addison, MD, will continue training through a Sleep Medicine Fellowship at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT.

* Thomas Brockhoft, MD, will practice as a hospitalist at Monument Health in Rapid City, SD.

* Tya Campbell, MD, will practice as a hospitalist at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, MT.

* Jennifer Eitingon, MD, will continue her training through a Palliative Care Fellowship at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD.

* Sarah Mete, DO, will remain with Billings Clinic as the 2022 Chief of Medical Residents for the Internal Medicine Residency in Billings, MT

* James Rankin, MD, will practice as an internal medicine physician.

* Brian Reidy, DO, will practice as a hospitalist at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, MT. 

* Julia Rosion, MD, will practice as a hospitalist at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, MT.

* Meredith Sladic, MD, will practice as a primary care physician and Billings Clinic Internal Medicine Residency Faculty Hospitalist at Billings Clinic in Billings, MT.

* Syney Asper, MD, completed the one-year program and will continue training in radiology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT.

* Travis Bailey, MD, completed the one-year program and will continue training anesthesiology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH.

* Paul Harrie, MD, completed the one-year program and will continue training in radiology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO.

* Andrew Monforton, MD, completed the one-year program and will continue training in radiology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA.   

Billings Clinic established Montana’s first Internal Medicine Residency program in 2013. The three-year program combines education and research with practical clinical and hospital experience among a complex patient population. The residency program is designed to train internists to care for complex medically ill patients in rural environments. Training includes working in a rural community through the Rural Rotation Program. Each resident spends one month working at Central Montana Medical Center, and one month at Sheridan Memorial Hospital, an 88-bed community hospital.   

Moving 50 times over 46 plus years of marriage! Roll Up the Bedtarp, Ma is the story of a cowboys wife. Stories about a way of life that is disappearing across this country. The book includes stories of how this way of life handles daily work, weather, livestock and the serious ups and downs of life. For more information or to buy a book go to www.CowboyWideDesigns.com or email Dianne.smith62 @aol.com

Many co-working spaces provide an office that functions much like a gym. Memberships provide monthly access the facility and its features such as desks, conference rooms, kitchens and other office essentials. Co-working offers remote workers a professional setting where they can connect to businesses and customers while avoiding the costs of a traditional office. The Flathead Valley has several co-working businesses open.

Walmart and Target have both announced plans to close all their US stores for Thanksgiving 2021. Walmart, like other stores, successfully pushed more sales online to reduce crowds in its stores. Given the clout of Walmart and Target, other major retailers wll likely follow their lead  this year.

Montana’s Public Service Commission is planning to hire an executive director after an audit found commissioners were overspending on travel and the commission needed to improve its financial reporting and its work culture. The executive director position will oversee all internal administrative matters, including financial reporting and compliance with laws and policies. A posting for the job indicates it will pay between $85,000 and $105,000, plus benefits. The Public Service Commission regulates monopoly utilities, such as electricity and natural gas.

The Montana Wilderness Association has changed its name to Wild Montana. Founded in 1958  in Bozeman the organization now has a staff of 22 who are spread across Montana.

The Floral Cottage is now open at their new location in Helena at 2620 N. Sanders. The owner is Pam Lee and the business is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Roby Burch, a Big Timber native, 26, couldn’t find a grill he wanted. He was looking for portable and versatile. So he decides to put one together himself. In 2016, while at college he made a suspended grill with some chains, pipes and a 55-gallon barrel. He moved it around to parties and cookouts. Burch developed his in Four Corners outside of bozeman. The Burch Barrel is a suspended grill that can double as a firepit. The grill hangs off a tripod-like mount and the height is adjustable.

The new owners of the Helena Cycle Center are Justin and Janessa Barrell who took over the business in early January. The phone is 443-4631 or you can visit them online at www.helenacycle.com.

Cookies and Cream! will open in mid-June at 1 W. 15th St. in Helena. Get more information @cookiesandcreammt on Facebook.

Gov. Greg Gianforte is objecting to a U.S. government proposal to alter water releases from a reservoir in northeastern Montana to help an ancient and endangered fish species the dinosaur-like pallid sturgeon.

Petals Floral Design is now open at 1900 N. Last Chance Gulch in Helena. The owner is Kathy Synness and she can be reached at 439-1771.

Senor Egg has opened in Williston ND at the former Quinn’s Bar and Grill. Senor Egg will offer a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner specials with a Mexican American flavor. Senor Egg promises to deliver a menu that Williston hasn’t seen before, from traditional Mexican dishes to the American classics. Follow them at www.facebook.com/senior.egg.77

Williston is allowing residents to pay their bills online with a variety of methods, including cryptocurrency

A civil lawsuit between Montana residents and an oil company has been dismissed as a result of a settlement agreement. The District Court Judge announced a settlement between state residents and the Atlantic Richfield Co. but provided no details of the agreement. The lawsuit was initially filed against ARCO in April 2008 by 98 people living in the cities of Opportunity and Crackerville. The lawsuit It alleged that smelter waste was contaminating the rural communities’ soils and threatening residents’ wells. Anaconda Copper Mining Co. began smelting copper ore from Butte in the 1880. In 1977, ARCO purchased the Anaconda Co. and under the federal Superfund law, ARCO became retroactively liable for the contamination.

Driverless, electric, low-speed shuttle vehicles are coming to Yellowstone National Park — and soon. A contractor will start running the automated vehicles in late May in the Canyon Village area, shuttling visitors to yet-to-be-determined stops near the campground, commercial buildings and lodging areas. The vendor, Beep Inc. Shuttles, was selected for the pilot program, which will run through next August. Beep Inc. Shuttles is based in Orlando, Florida, and bills itself as the “next generation of passenger mobility.” The fledgling business, which is less than 2 years old, has landed major federal BUILD transportation grants to develop and deploy its technology.

A coalition of wildlife advocates and hunters, represented by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice, asked the U.S. Forest Service to issue new protections for wolves in designated wilderness areas following Idaho and Montana’s enactment of a rash of aggressive anti-wolf laws. The petition asks the Service for protection of wolves in national forest wilderness areas from new Idaho and Montana laws allowing professional contractors and private reimbursement programs—resembling 19th-century wolf bounties—to dramatically reduce wolf populations in the two states.  The coalition said that the  Montana and Idaho legislatures enacted harsh anti-wolf laws that target up to 1,800 wolves. One goal of the laws is to artificially inflate elk populations – which are currently at or above population objectives in most management units – to levels last seen in the mid-1990s, before wolves were reintroduced to their historical range in the Northern Rockies.

Bozeman Health has partnered with Seattle Children’s Hospital to expand pediatric specialty medical services in Southwest Montana. There will be a total of six services offered at the new Sheehy Center of Pediatric Excellence at Deaconess Hospital. The services include pediatric cardiology, surgery, oncology, orthopedics, integrated pediatric behavioral health, and wellness services. 

A seasonal restaurant, Piccola Cucina at Ox Pasture in Red Lodge has opened for its fourth season. Chef Philip Guardione cooks authentic Sicilian food which is an amalgam of Italian cuisine influenced by all the cultures that found Sicily as their crossroads. 

After sitting mostly vacant since the early 1990s, the historic Crowley Block building in the heart of downtown Lewistown will see new life and contribute to the health of the community after an $8.6 million rehabilitation and redevelopment of the basement, first floor and mezzanine. The building at 311 W. Main St. will become the new clinical site for the One Health community health center. The project will add and expand services increasing efficiency and improving the patient experience.

In Bozeman, ACRES Capital Corp. (together with its subsidiaries, “ACRES”), a commercial real estate has originated a $29.2 million loan to fund the construction of Babcock Apartments , a nearly 80,000-square-foot multifamily building located at 1612 and 1624 West Babcock Street.  The loan is provided to sponsor Roundhouse Development (“Roundhouse”), the largest multifamily developer in Idaho and Montana. Babcock Apartments will contain 95 rental units, 105 parking spaces and 2,300 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

McDonald’s announced that they will be looking to hire 830 employees in Montana this summer as they welcome customers back into dining rooms.

Missoula-based 350 Montana has filed two complaints against the Montana Public Service Commission regarding a process that gives NorthWestern Energy the leeway to invest in resources that they say may disadvantage its customers. They ask a Missoula County District Court judge to find Montana’s “pre-approval” statute unconstitutional and to stop all pre-approval applications while the case is going through the legal process. The action could delay NorthWestern Energy’s proposed power plant in Laurel. Montana’s pre-approval statute says the Public Service Commission may sidestep the public process and give public utilities approval for energy sources prior to the utility acquiring the resources or starting construction of generating plants or other infrastructure.

While Billings citizens give local law enforcement high marks in performance and generally feel safe in Billings, they do have some anxiety about the downtown area according to a most recent survey.

Each year the City of Billings Police issue a report regarding the past year’s activity, including a survey of citizens’ safety concerns, the kinds of issues and crimes with which police have had to deal, and how the department is structured and operates. The report is available on the City of Billings website in the document center, but here are some highlights.

Asked about the quality of life in Billings the survey revealed that eight in ten believe it is an excellent or good place to live, with three-fourths agreeing that it is a good place to raise children. A majority said they felt safe in their neighborhood during the day and at night (92 percent and 71 percent respectively). Only 83 percent said they felt safe in major recreational areas and downtown areas during the day.

About 6 in 10 respondents rated the overall feeling of safety in Billings as excellent or good – a score lower than the national average. Only 3 in 10 residents said they feel very or somewhat safe in Billings’ downtown areas and in major recreational areas at night, also a rating below the national average.

Issues of greatest concern are drug abuse, burglaries/ thefts, homeless or transient related problems, driving under the influence, domestic violence, and child abuse. More than 75 percent of respondents rated each of these factors as a major or moderate problem.

Respondents gave high marks to the job performance of the police department, despite the problems they see.

If it seems like the incidence of murder – deliberate homicide – has increased a lot in Billings – it has. A look at a ten year chart of Homicide Offenses in Billings, which include Negligent Homicide and Justifiable Homicide, is one of dramatically rising bars across its face. In 2010 there was one – just one – case of deliberate homicide and one of negligent homicide. It was much the same in 2013, when deliberate homicide increased to 4 and no negligent homicides. In 2015 there were nine deliberate homicides and 1 negligent. There were no deliberate homicides in 2016 and only one negligent. 2017 saw the first incident of justifiable homicides when there were three. In 2018 there were 5 deliberate homicides, and then three in 2019 and then the number skyrocketed to 16 in 2020, at which point there was 4 negligent homicides and two justifiable homicide.

By the end of 2020, the Police Department reported that 15 of 22 homicides had been cleared by arrest, warrant or the suspect was deceased. The other 7 cases were open or under prosecutorial review for charges.

Violent crime rates too show a dramatic increase over the past ten years, climbing from 52 robbery offenses in 2010 to 138 in 2020. Most violent crimes are assaults, followed by criminal endangerment, partner- family member assault, and assault on a minor. The number of annual aggravated assaults has increased from 206 in 2010 to 781, which includes a big jump from 2019 which had 513. Non-aggravated assaults increased from 1102 in 2010 to 1658 in 2020.

It was commonly claimed that with the COVID-19 lockdowns that the strain placed on families resulted in an increase in domestic violence, the data at the end of 2020 seems to bear out the claim. The number of Partner or Family Member Assaults jumped from 724 in 2019 to 971 in 2020. (the number was 754 in 2017.) Strangulation was a factor in 155 instances. Incidents of stalking increases from 8 in 2017 to 25 in 2020. Sexual assault increased from 175 cases in 2019 to 247 in 2020.

There were 60 kidnappings in Billings in 2020, edging back up to the record high in 2011 of 79.

Drug abuse and drug trafficking are at the top of the list of the crimes that are of greatest concern to Billings. Various aspects of law enforcement have a collaborative program in dealing with drug trafficking, called the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program (HIDTA), a component of the President’s National Drug Control Strategy, which provides federal resources to local law enforcement. The Eastern Montana HIDTA Drug Task Force was formed in 1996 as part of Rocky Mountain Region which covers Montana, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Methamphetamine was the most common drug seized by law enforcement in 2020 at 56.21 pounds, followed by 42.86 pounds o marijuana. 3,476 Pharmaceuticals were seized, in addition to heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, hallucinogens, and $498,631 in assets. 198 firearms were seized, 26 drug loads were intercepted and one meth lab uncovered. During the year Billings law enforcement made 57 felony arrests 35 federal indictments, and 2 misdemeanor charges.

There are an average of 16 officers and commanders on each of the three shifts the police department operates every day. Commanders determine which part of Billings each officer – never less than nine officers — will patrol that day.

There are separate divisions within the department including Domestic Violence Investigator, Investigations, Animal Control. There are also specialized 15 other  units within the department, such as the Bicycle Patrol, the K9 unit, the Bomb Squad, SWAT, Firearm Instructors, Crisis Intervention Training, etc.

The goals of the Billings Police Department include to reduce the incident of violent crime by aggressively targeting violent criminal and drug activity, to continue to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organization and by adding additional officers to the Street Crimes Unit.

The department intends to strengthen traffic enforcement y by fully sting the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) and augmenting it with K9 (dogs) officers. They have installed electronic equipment that will reduce time involved in issuing and processing citations, and they have added speed trailers for neighborhood monitoring.

Other goals include improving response time, making reporting crime easier, and to more extensively implement crime prevention through Environmental Design which involves improving the appearance of neighborhoods, improving lighting and removing visual obstructions, etc. And, to continue relationships and cooperation with other local associations, businesses, schools and medical facilities.

The Center Square

A small business advocacy organization has sued Major League Baseball to return the All-Star Game to Atlanta.

In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Job Creators Network demands executives immediately resume plans to host the game in Atlanta or pay $100 million in damages to local and state small businesses.

“MLB robbed the small businesses of Atlanta – many of them minority-owned – of $100 million, we want the game back where it belongs,” Job Creators Network President and CEO Alfredo Ortiz said. 

MLB moved the game from Atlanta to Denver after the Georgia General Assembly approved and Gov. Brian Kemp signed an elections overhaul bill into law on March 25. The bill had many tentacles, including revamping absentee voting in the state.

Under the bill, absentee voters will have to write their driver’s license number, identification card number, voter registration number or the last four digits of their Social Security number with their birthdate on ballots. The measure also made changes to the locations of ballot drop boxes and bans mobile polling stations.

Proponents said the law increases election security and integrity. Opponents argued it will disenfranchise Black voters.

The Montana Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Governor making appointments to the Supreme Court and District Courts.

The decision is in response to a challenge to SB140, a recently enacted law that abolished the Judicial Nomination Commission. The commission that was responsible for screening applicants for vacancies on the Supreme Court and District Courts and forwarding nominees to the Governor for appointment to those vacancies.

SB 140 replaced the Commission with a process that allows the Governor to consider any applicant who received a letter of support from at least three adult Montana residents during a prescribed public comment period. The Judicial Nomination Commission was created by the 1973 Legislature in response to the enactment of Article VII, Section 8(2) of the 1972 Montana Constitution, which provides that “[f]or any vacancy in the office of supreme court justice or district court judge, the governor shall appoint a replacement from nominees selected in the manner provided by law.”

The Petitioners contended that Article VII, Section 8(2) required the creation of a separate commission or committee to screen applicants for judicial vacancies. The Petitioners argued that the purpose of Article VII, Section 8(2) was to ensure the appointment of quality judges who were free of political influence, and that the abolishment of the Commission violated that purpose by giving unfettered discretion to the Governor for appointing justices and judges.

Respondents argued that the plain language of Article VII, Section 8(2) gave the Legislature the discretion to prescribe the manner in which justices and judges are appointed and did not require an independent commission to screen applicants. The Court agreed with Petitioners that the purpose of Article VII, Section 8(2) was to ensure the appointment of good judges, and that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution had to be properly considered in determining a provision’s constitutionality.

After reviewing the transcripts from the Constitutional Convention, however, the Court concluded that neither the plain language of Article VII, Section 8(2), nor the Framers’ intent indicated that Article VII, Section 8(2) required an independent commission to screen applicants. Rather, the language of Article VII, Section 8(2) was a compromise among some Constitutional Convention Delegates who wanted a commission, and others who wanted to give more discretion to the Governor. The compromise delegated the process for making judicial appointments to the Legislature. Although the Court acknowledged that the Commission created by the 1973 Legislature had honored the constitutional objective of recruiting good judges to serve the citizens of Montana for the past forty-eight years, it was not the Court’s function to determine whether the Commission was a better process than SB 140 for making judicial appointments—it was to determine whether SB 140 complied with the language and constitutional intent of Article VII, Section 8(2).

The Court held that it does.

Justice Rice wrote a separate concurring opinion to condemn “the extraordinary, indeed, extraconstitutional, actions taken by the Legislature and the Department of Justice.

Justice Rice addressed at length the failure of the Legislature and the Department of Justice to “demonstrate a proper understanding of the Judiciary’s constitutional authority.” He addressed the historical importance to our constitutional system of government that requires each branch of government to respect the other branches’ constitutional authority, and the perils to our democracy when one branch of government ignores the constitutional separation of powers. Justice Rice also addressed the “duplicitous actions” engaged in by the Legislature’s attorneys in their filings with this Court.

Despite finding this conduct “dishonest and contemptuous,” Justice Rice assessed the merits of the issue before the Court and concurred with the Court’s decision that SB 140 is constitutional.

Justice McKinnon dissented from the Court’s decision. She concluded that SB 140 violated the plain language of Article VII, Section 8(2), which requires that “nominees [be] selected.” Justice McKinnon would hold that SB 140 establishes only an application process that is not a merit-based selection process as required by Article VII, Section 8(2). Noting that when interpreting constitutional provisions, the intent of the Framers is controlling, Justice McKinnon discussed Montana’s history of political corruption, executive overreach into the courts, and the constitutional provision itself, and would hold that applying well-established rules of construction for determining the Framers’ intent in reviewing Constitutional Convention Notes, prior legislative determinations regarding the Framers’ intent, and this Court’s precedent lead to a conclusion that SB 140 is unconstitutional.

Justice McKinnon concluded that the Framers of the 1972 Constitution intended to limit the Governor’s plenary power to make judicial appointments which existed under the 1889 Constitution. Justice McKinnon noted that at the core of the Framers’ convictions was an intent to preserve the integrity and independence of Montana’s judiciary, and to ensure that power was not disproportionately placed in one branch of government. Justice McKinnon concluded that SB 140, because it gives plenary power to the Governor to appoint judges from self-nominated applicants without an independent merit-based vetting process, is inconsistent with the Framers’ intent, and violates Montana’s Constitution