The big #mtnews yesterday was the Supreme Court upholding the law that gives the governor power to directly fill judicial vacancies.

The 🔥🤯🧐 news was Justice Rice's concurring opinion that compared Attorney General Austin Knudsen to Andrew Jackson. In a very bad way. (🧵)
Rice's opinion focused on some of the early moves in this saga between the Leg. and the judiciary. TLDR: the Leg. subpoenaed the court administrator for judicial records. She filed a challenge to that subpoena in the SB140 case, even though she/the Leg. were not parties to it.
This all happened very quickly. The Leg. had already gone to a state agency and was getting a flood of emails. The court ruled on a Sunday that, even though this was totally bonkers, the risk of releasing private, personal information was high. They quashed the subpoena. THEN:
The Legislature retains the Attorney General's office. In a letter (not a court filing) to the Supreme Court the next day, the AG's office says: "The Legislature does not recognize this Court's Order as binding and will not abide it... The subpoena is valid and will be enforced."
Dear reader, this is what Justice Rice *railed against* in his opinion last night, calling the letter "obviously contemptuous" and representative of a complete disregard for the role of the Court in adjudicating constitutional conflicts between branches.
Rice said the surprising thing about AG's letter was "the ignorance of history." He cited Marbury v. Madison, Alexander Hamilton/the Federalist Papers, and just hammered home the point about an independent judiciary being key for a democracy.
To reiterate: the AG/Legislature's argument here is that the court's ruling was improper because it came in a case where the Leg. and the court administrator were not parties. Rice doesn't touch that. He simply states:
"By repeatedly refusing to comply, the Attorney General engages in actions that are destructive to our democratic system of government."

This is when Rice pivots to comparing Knudsen's actions to the "calamitous" legal standoff of Andrew Jackson that led to The Trail of Tears.
"This tragic suffering was rooted in the arrogance of one man demanding to have his own way, Constitution be damned," Rice wrote. "And we have seen history repeated in the Attorney General's extralegal actions taken in this case."

(Did I mention: 🤯)
In summary, Rice said the legal system allows copious routes for a party to respond to a disagreeable ruling. "Sending the Court letters in defiance of its orders is not a legally available option under the Montana Constitution," Rice said. 😬
For the finale: Rice said that the duplicitous and contemptuous actions of the Leg. and AG's office could have resulted in booting them from the case entirely.

"My initial thought was to ask the Court to impose these sanctions, but a second thought prevailed," he wrote.
"[U]ntil the Legislature and the Department of Justice can demonstrate a proper understanding of the Judiciary's constitutional authority, there is little hope they could comprehend contempt of it."

(Cue lightning bolts. Probably thunder.)
The AG's spox sent this last night:
"The Attorney General's Office has a responsibility to point out judicial misconduct and ensure the administration of justice in Montana." Rice's "emotional rant and personal attacks" were meant to distract from the Court's conduct, they said.
My takeaways: this whole thing is wild. Rice is one of the most conservative members of the court and a former GOP lawmaker. He's also not known for spicy rulings like this.

Rice won't get to rule in the OTHER case re the Leg's subpoena powers (he recused)...
... so this really was his chance to breathe fire. And hoo boy did he do that.

Read for yourself here, starting on page 25.…


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