Democrats are calling it “an attack on a co-equal, independent branch of government” and “a power grab.” But essentially, the controversy was kindled when emails were released that revealed extreme, partisan bias by Supreme Court justices against bills that they would one day have to rule upon. The emails, released first by Aaron Flint of Montana Talks, are jaw-dropping. The bias shown in the emails appears to be a blatant violation of the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct.
The issue revolves around SB140, which passed through the legislature and was signed by Governor Gianforte, granting the governor the power to appoint judges and justices if vacancies are created between elections without the left-leaning Judicial Nomination Committee’s input. Democrats, led by Bob Brown, sued the state, claiming that SB140 was unconstitutional. Knowing that the matter would arrive at the Supreme Court, Attorney General Austin Knudsen revealed the fact that a poll was taken, and along with additional correspondence, which would show that numerous justices were biased and should recuse themselves.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath did recuse himself, but mostly because he had personally lobbied Governor Gianforte against SB140 so it was hard to deny that he had bias. He appointed Judge Kurt Krueger to replace him, on the merits that Krueger was impartial. After agreeing to serve in McGrath’s place, Krueger went on the recuse himself after an email revealed he also had personal bias against the bill.
Note: This is the court that Democrats insist is impartial and can be trusted to follow the Montana Judicial Code of Ethics.
Attorney General Knudsen then asked for a stay on the court’s handling of the lawsuit attempting to overturn SB140, pending further investigation into the justices’ bias. The Supreme Court ruled in their own favor (refer to the note above) and declared themselves free of any checks-and-balances from other branches of government. After the court granted itself immunity from the Attorney General’s inquiry, the Montana legislature appointed the Select Committee that met just minutes ago.
That committee, comprised of a Republican majority and Democrat minority among both the Montana House and Montana Senate, demanded the appearance of Supreme Court Administrator, Beth McLaughlin. McLaughlin was ordered to bring the email records of the court and submit to the lawful check-and-balance provided by the legislature. McLaughlin was also at the very center of the emails released from the Supreme Court, and is seen disrespecting and insulting conservatives and the legislature as a whole.
Montana Daily Gazette previously reported…
According to sources speaking to the Montana Daily Gazette, the Select Committee will demand the appearance of Supreme Court Administrator, Beth McLaughlin, and will demand that she bring the court’s email correspondence in tow. If she does not consent to appear and bring the requested documentation, sources report that the committee leadership is prepared to issue a warrant for arrest through the Sergeant-At-Arms, Brad Murfitt.
Unsurprisingly, Beth McLaughlin chose not to appear at 9AM this morning. This is, without a doubt, a Constitutional crisis in Montana.
You can watch the committee meeting here (if and when the link changes, we will update it so check back soon).
A CLEAR SUMMARY
A branch of the state government, which is supposed to be non-partisan, has been exposed as having extreme partisanship. And although the Montana Judicial Code of Ethics bans bias, the emails and poll reveal that they have significant bias. As the emails were exposed, only one justice recused himself for bias and replaced himself with another judge who also had to step down for bias (neither did so voluntarily). Meanwhile, the court absolved itself from releasing emails that would further demonstrate their bias – in clear violation of state laws providing for government transparency. When both the executive branch (the Attorney General) and the legislative branch (the Select Committee) attempted to provide a constitutional check-and-balance, the Supreme Court refused to send their administrator to comply with their subpoena for information.
Portraying the committee meeting as unfair, a Democrat member of the Select Committee, Diane Sands (D-SD49) said, “This is an unfair attack upon Beth McLaughlin, when she isn’t here to defend herself.”
Of course, the committee demanded McLaughlin’s presence, and she criminally spurned their request. The other Democrat member of the committee, House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, also claimed that this was an overreach of the legislative branch. Neither Sands nor Abbott seemed to understand Montana laws governing the right-to-know or had the vaguest inkling of the Constitutional concept of checks-and-balances. And both Sands and Abbott repeatedly iterated that the Supreme Court had integrity, was not biased, and faithfully follow the Montana Judicial Code of Ethics. However, neither made an attempt to demonstrate their assertion, which seems to fall flat on its face in the light of the slightest scrutiny.
WHAT IS TO COME?
The Select Committee is scheduled to meet again at 3PM today to discuss the matter further. There are several possibilities. The first, as previously reported by Montana Daily Gazette, is that an arrest warrant for McLaughlin may be issued to the legislature’s Sergeant-at-Arms to find McLaughlin and bring her to the legislature for questioning.
The second possibility is that House Speaker Wylie Galt and other leaders may draft articles of impeachment against the justices for breach of the Montana Judical Code of Ethics or other high crimes against the State of Montana.
In reality, both could happen. One thing is for sure, however; the issue is set to escalate from here, and our assumption in previous articles that this would be the biggest news story in Montana Politics in years is coming to fruition.