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Guest column: Judicial activism at work in recent court ruling

| April 14, 2022 6:00 AM

“The Legislature shall provide by law the requirements for residence, registration, absentee voting, and administration of elections.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that line in Article IV, Section 3 of Montana’s Constitution.

Unless of course you’re an activist judge who doesn’t like common sense laws duly passed by the people’s representatives, the democratically elected Legislature. In that case, you’ll just go ahead and block those laws in favor of your political allies, exactly as District Court Judge Michael Moses did recently.

The laws in question are entirely reasonable and are supported by Montanans throughout the state. One of them requires voter identification to ensure that a person seeking to vote in an election is eligible to do so because they’re indeed a citizen and a resident of Montana. The new law requires a photo ID with a Montana address. Or, alternatively, you can use a photo ID without an address but also supply other proof of address. If even that doesn’t work, you can sign an affidavit and still vote, but that vote can then be checked for eligibility and thrown out if the person isn’t a legal voter.

The other three laws in question move the voter registration deadline to noon the day before the election, prohibit partisan political operatives from being paid to harvest ballots, and prohibit people from receiving ballots until they’ve met the age and residency requirements to be eligible to vote.

Democrats don’t like these sensible laws for some reason, but the laws are completely within the bounds of Montana’s Constitution, further secure our elections, and don’t prevent any eligible registered voter from exercising their fundamental constitutional right to vote. Which is why Judge Moses’s recent ruling is so infuriating and so outside the bounds of our constitutional separation of powers.

Barely a month before ballots go out for the June primary, Judge Moses unilaterally blocked all these common-sense laws at the request of the Montana Democratic machine. His ruling hardly even touched on legal, constitutional analysis, let alone Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution. Instead, he engaged mostly in a “he said, she said” debate between the parties in the lawsuit over whether they like the new laws or not.

In such a flimsy ruling, it’s no surprise that Moses sided with the activist liberals. He was originally appointed to the bench by a Democratic governor. Every partisan donation his household has made, over $1,500 in total, has gone to Democrats.

We have a lot of good judges in Montana who are committed to fulfilling their strictly judicial roles as required by the separation of powers in our Constitution. Unfortunately, we also have way too many activist judges who let their political and policy views cloud their decisions on the bench.

To them we say: if you want to go beyond assessing constitutionality, and instead express your own views of what’s good or bad policy, if you want to change the law to fit your political preferences, if you want to advocate for policies, then run for the Legislature. That’s what we all did. The Legislature is the policymaking branch of government, not the judiciary. Your job is to interpret the laws. If you want to write them, or get rid of the ones you don’t like, you’re in the wrong office.

For too long, our part-time citizen Legislature and the people of Montana haven’t paid enough attention to what’s been going on within Montana’s judicial branch of government. That’s over now. Judges are always happy to tell others when they’re in the wrong, but too many don’t want the same accountability for themselves. Keep political activism out of our courts. Respect the separation of powers guaranteed under our Constitution. Judge Moses’s unjustifiable activist ruling needs to be overturned immediately.

Signed by 57 Republican members of the Legislature, including all House and Senate leadership, the sponsors of the four blocked election laws, the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the chairs of the House and Senate State Administration Committees, and all Republican members of the Special Select Committee on Judicial Accountability and Transparency.

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