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District Court: legislature has final say over Governor’s veto

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News from Upper Seven Law

HELENA — The Montana First Judicial District Court held today that the Governor and the Secretary of State must follow the clear procedure the Montana Constitution mandates and allow the Legislature the opportunity to override the Governor’s veto of Senate Bill 442—a popular, bipartisan bill the Governor vetoed on the final day of the 2023 legislative session.  

Per the Court’s order, the Governor must send the bill and his veto message to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary must poll the Legislature.

The Court rejected the Governor and the Secretary’s claim that a loophole in the text of the Montana Constitution excused their failure to initiate the out-of-session veto override process. They claimed the veto occurred during the final hours of the legislative session—even though the full Legislature did not receive the Governor’s veto message until after it had adjourned sine die. The Court rejected this argument, stating, “As a practical matter, the legislature cannot vote to override a veto before it is aware of the veto.”  

Moreover, the Court explained that the framer’s intent removes any ambiguity: “[T]he governor must transmit the veto message and the secretary of state must conduct the override poll in the manner established by Article VI, Section 10(4).”

“Governors cannot opportunistically time their vetoes to stifle the Legislature’s constitutionally guaranteed override authority,” said Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, Executive Director of Upper Seven Law and counsel to Wild Montana and the Montana Wildlife Federation.  “The Montana Constitution contemplated precisely these circumstances and the Governor, and the Secretary must comply—because no one is above the Constitution.”

Consolidated Petitioners and Plaintiff were represented by Upper Seven Law and Black Law Office respectively. 

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