The Montana Supreme Court is the balance. It’s the third branch helping to keep the legislature and governor in check. Listed on the ballot as nonpartisan, party politics aren’t supposed to play into these races. They’re lower key and there isn’t the vitriol or money as seen in most of the statewide Tier A campaigns. This often means the races don’t get the attention they deserve, which is unfortunate, but our look into the candidates makes it clear that Mike Black should be elected to the Montana Supreme Court.
Black has been endorsed by five retired Montana Supreme Court Justices: James Nelson, Terry Trieweiler, Mike Wheat, William Leaphart, and Jim Regnier.
Justice Nelson, also a contributor at this site, wrote a post endorsing Black.
Black’s background includes being the director of litigation at the Montana Legal Services Association. Before that, he served at the Montana Attorney General’s office. There, according to his website, he litigated constitutional issues, including cases about regulating dark money in Montana elections and partisan influence in judicial elections.
And it’s that work to protect Montana’s campaign finance laws and prevent corrupting influence of corporate and other dark money actors that makes Black our clear choice in this race.
Black will uphold Montana’s election laws as a justice, and will best protect the integrity of our judicial system, putting the unique rights enshrined in the Montana constitution—from our right to a clean environment to our right to quality public education—ahead of the interests of big, secretive donors who are trying to use their financial resources to stack courts all over the country.
Black’s work to prevent dark money’s influence in our political system is in stark contrast with one of his opponents, current Justice Laurie McKinnon, who was the recipient of massive dark money spending organized by former State Senator Jason Priest and his Montana Growth Network, which took money from billionaires seeking to limit Montana’s stream access laws.
As candidate Elizabeth Best noted in 2013:
“Hearing from the candidates doesn’t matter anymore,” she said, adding that what matters is who has well-financed outside supporters to “cast candidates as something they aren’t and to tip the scales.”
McKinnon, Best said, was “running as a partisan with unlimited backing.”
We’re also concerned that McKinnon first said she would not run after serving a term, concerned it could become “another potentially partisan” campaign and noting that her husband had taken a job in North Carolina. She reneged last fall.
Previous to her Supreme Court seat, she held positions in Montana as deputy county attorney in Glacier and Teton Counties, then moving on to Ninth Judicial District Court Judge for Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole Counties.
Frankly, we know less about the third candidate, Mars Scott, who practices family law in Missoula. What we glean from his website is service in the Navy and support from Veterans. His Facebook page offers a few more insights.
We contacted three respected Montana attorneys for their perspective. All of them supported Black, had nothing good to say about McKinnon, and thought Scott was out of his depth.
“He’s a divorce lawyer out of Missoula,” said one, “he doesn’t have a chance in hell.”
Our endorsement is clear: Mike Black will best protect the rights all Montanans enjoy and protect Montana’s elections from those who think money matters more than the voice of the people.