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Committee to address judicial overreach

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HELENA — Montana Senate President Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, is appointing a new committee to address violations of the state’s constitutional separation of powers by the Montana Supreme Court and judicial branch of government. 

The only voting members of the Senate Select Committee on Judicial Oversight and Reform will be senators, per legislative rules. 

Ellsworth is appointing Republican senators Barry Usher, Steve Fitzpatrick, Tom McGillvray, Steve Hinebauch, Wendy McKamey, Carl Glimm, Chris Friedel, Mark Noland, and Daniel Emrich to the committee. 

Ellsworth is consulting with Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers about Democratic members of the select committee. Additional non-voting committee members may also be added. Ellsworth will serve as the select committee’s chair and Usher will serve as vice chair. 

The committee’s objectives will include creating legislation for the 2025 Legislature to rein in Montana courts’ abuse of power, restoring coequal power among Montana’s three branches of government, establishing more oversight of the judiciary, strengthening legislative rules and procedures, and improving court processes on important constitutional cases. 

Ellsworth’s appointment of a Senate select committee focused on the judiciary comes after a series of troubling judicial rulings at the district court and Supreme Court levels. A majority of state senators recently signed a letter condemning an unconstitutional veto override poll ordered by the courts. Multiple senators, including leadership, have raised alarm about a Supreme Court ruling interfering with internal legislative rules. Within just the past week, Ellsworth has responded to two separate Supreme Court rulings intruding on the Legislature’s lawmaking role. Ellsworth and House Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, have filed amicus briefs on behalf of the Legislature in the Held climate case and a lawsuit over a 2021 bill. A bipartisan group of legislators and housing advocates have also expressed concerns about a ruling from a Gallatin County district court judge temporarily blocking some of the 2023 Legislature’s “Montana Miracle” pro-housing bills. 

“Simply put, Montana’s courts are out of control. They’re seizing power that doesn’t belong to them and undermining our constitutional system of checks and balances,” Ellsworth said. “Only two of the seven Supreme Court justices, Jim Rice and Dirk Sandefur, are showing a modicum of judicial restraint. Multiple district court judges are also attempting to take the law into their own hands. The Legislature must address this systemic overreach and restore the balance of power within our government. 

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