Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Court commits judicial overreach on SB 422 ruling

by Llew Jones
| March 24, 2024 12:00 AM

The recent news cycle has been dominated by discussions regarding the court system’s intervention in the legislative process, specifically its attempt to compel a vote on SB 422, a bill vetoed near the end of the 2023 session.

Legislative rules clearly define the governor’s authority to veto a bill and outline the subsequent procedure for the House and Senate to potentially override the veto. SB 442 was vetoed and appropriately returned to both chambers. In the House, the return of the bill was announced and acknowledged. In the Senate, however, despite the bill being returned, the session unexpectedly adjourned early without addressing the override vote. 

With SB 442 in the Senate’s possession, it could have been voted upon. Once the Senate adjourned, there was little interest in the House to pursue a vote on the veto since, according to our rules, the bill was effectively dead.

The court has now inserted itself into this matter, claiming jurisdiction. The Montana Constitution establishes the “separation of powers” principle, dividing government power into three distinct branches: Legislative, executive and judicial. Each branch is prohibited from exercising the powers of another, except as expressly permitted by the constitution.

This principle is the bedrock of our representative republic.

I have at times disagreed with the court’s interpretations of legislation or constitutional provisions and do not consider judges’ decisions infallible. However, it is within their purview to make such decisions, and the appeals process exists to address judicial errors.

While courts have the authority to interpret laws and the constitution, they do not have jurisdiction over the internal processes of other branches. Each branch sets its own procedural rules: court rules govern judicial proceedings, while legislative rules govern legislative proceedings. The Legislature cannot dismiss court findings because it disagrees with the court’s process; similarly, the court should not interfere with internal legislative processes.

In the instances of SB 319 and now SB 442, the court has overstepped based on a disagreement with legislative procedural rules. Continued judicial intervention in legislative processes could lead to further governmental disarray. Adherence to “separation of powers” is crucial for maintaining a balance among the branches.

In the case of SB 442, I assert that the court has committed an act of “judicial overreach.” The court does not have jurisdiction over another branch’s procedural rules. Therefore, regardless of my position on SB 442’s contents, which have some positives in supporting road maintenance, I cannot in good conscience participate in what I see as an unlawful poll compelled by judicial overreach.

My vote has always been prioritized first by conscience, then by constituents and then caucus. For me, it is a vote of conscience to not support growing judicial overreach. 

Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad.