An appellate court panel’s decision to allow political parties to endorse candidates and make expenditures in Montana’s nonpartisan judicial elections will stand, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday. None of the 9th Circuit judges voted to rehear the three-judge panel’s June decision, so the appellate court denied the state attorney general’s petition. The panel said in June the state’s ban on party endorsements and expenditures in judicial races is unconstitutional, but ruled that candidates can’t receive direct contributions from parties. The state filed a petition for rehearing, calling it a matter of exceptional importance in Montana’s authority to determine how to maintain an impartial and nonpartisan judiciary.
Montana’s system of judicial elections reflects a deeply ingrained and repeatedly confirmed sovereign decision by the state and its voters, Assistant Attorney General Michael Black wrote in the petition.
A decision has not been made whether to take the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, attorney general spokesman John Barnes said.
“We’re looking at our options and will be making a decision on how to proceed from here,” Barnes said in an emailed response to an Associated Press query.
The Sanders County Republican Party committee sued the state in 2012, saying it wanted to endorse candidates who share its judicial philosophy, “given the increasing intrusions by state judges into areas of policy reserved to the Montana Legislature.”