HELENA (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a new law that allows the governor to directly nominate judges to fill vacancies.
In a 6-1 ruling Thursday, the justices said Montana’s Constitution states that judicial vacancies between elections may be filled in a manner provided by law, and the legislature created a new law.
Under Senate Bill 140, the governor can directly nominate qualified candidates to fill judicial vacancies. Previously, the Judicial Nomination Commission vetted applicants and forwarded three to five names to the governor, from which he appointed a judge.
Justice Laurie McKinnon dissented, saying delegates to the 1972 Constitutional Convention intended to prevent the direct gubernatorial appointment of judges, as had been previously allowed, and to create a merit-based nomination process.
Republican Sen. Keith Regier of Kalispell, the bill’s sponsor, said “it’s now up to the governor to appoint qualified, thoughtful judges who will rule strictly on the law and Constitution.” He then praised the justices for having done just that.
The ruling, he said, “is a great example of ruling strictly on the constitutionality of a law and respecting the Legislature’s role as the legislative branch of government.”