Citizens File Lawsuit Against Bullock for Unconstitutional Mandates


MISSOULA, Mont. – Several plaintiffs filed a lawsuit (DV-2020-1990, Dept. 1) in the Montana First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County (Helena) on December 14, 2020, challenging the authority of Montana Governor Bullock and executive branch agencies to enforce alleged unconstitutional mandates under the Governor’s emergency powers.  The lawsuit presses two major points; that the Governor has effectively asserted legislative powers, which violates separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and that the mandates announced by the Governor invade rights that the people have reserved to themselves from government interference in the Montana and US Constitutions.

The lawsuit also claims that mandates by Governor Bullock requiring commercial businesses to enforce various restrictions on customers are an illegal taking of value from businesses because it forces businesses to operate as police but with no compensation for that required service.

Attorney Quentin Rhoades of Missoula filed the lawsuit on behalf of named individuals, businesses, and churches.  Rhoades commented, “We need judicial review of the powers the Governor has claimed to see if the Governor’s actions are consistent with the U.S. and Montana constitutions.  If they are not consistent, then the courts must rein in any unconstitutional acts by the Governor.”

Many of the health-related emergency powers in current Montana law have been retained from Montana’s territorial days of the 1880s.  Before Montana’s statehood, there were epidemics of cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and other diseases in Montana’s mining camps.  There were no hospitals, doctors, and medications, and limited understanding of disease process.  Lacking these healthcare resources to address the mining camp epidemics, the Territorial Legislature created emergency powers for the state and local governments.  Many of those emergency powers, as reflected in Title 10 and Title 50 of current Montana code, have not been updated to protect citizens against government overreach.

Rhoades continued, “It’s time for the Legislature to conduct a thorough review of health-related emergency powers, both for the executive branch and for local governments.  Until that happens, the courts must make a determination about the legality of what health powers have been asserted, and curtail those powers as needed to comply with the Constitution.  That is the purpose of this lawsuit.”

Some legislators have said they plan to take up the broad issue of emergency powers when the Legislature convenes in January.  By the time that happens, the Legislature may have some judicial opinion surfacing from this lawsuit.  Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states.


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