A federal judge Tuesday refused to block Montana’s law forbidding political parties from endorsing a nonpartisan judicial candidate, saying their involvement could transform judicial contests into partisan races. U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell of Helena said Montana clearly has an interest in maintaining a fair, impartial judiciary – and that keeping political parties out of judicial elections might be allowed to achieve that goal. “If … political parties were permitted to endorse nonpartisan judicial candidates, then the elections might be nonpartisan only in form,” he wrote. “Nonpartisan elections, perhaps, can truly be nonpartisan only if political parties are prohibited from endorsing candidates.”
The Sanders County Republican Central Committee has asked to strike down the endorsement ban, saying it’s an infringement on the committee’s free speech. The GOP group wants to endorse candidates in judicial races, saying it would like to promote judges who “share its ideological views.”
In Montana, judges run for their positions, but are nonpartisan, meaning they run with no party affiliation. Lovell’s order isn’t the final word on the case, however. He simply declined to remove the ban until a September trial on the issue – but he did say it’s unlikely the GOP group’s lawsuit will succeed.