Friday, April 12, 2024

Held vs. Montana

| March 22, 2024 7:00 AM

“This is unconstitutional” has become a frequently used phrase intended to subvert the logic and rational understanding of the Montana Constitution. 

When improperly applied, it perverts the intended checks and balances of our three-branch state government system. If a person, group, or political party doesn’t like the political content of an issue, they cry “unconstitutional.”

This takes our process of state government that was intended be a matter of adjudication and inappropriately inserts politics. An egregious example is current Montana supreme court candidate, Jerry Lynch who stated at a December fundraiser, “The judiciary is the last bastion against a supermajority, so to speak. And you know what I’m talking about.” ( 

This exemplifies perversion of the judicial process with judicial politics. Consequently, when there is a need for a direct ruling to clarify the intent of our Constitution, boundaries have become murky, creating a boldness by district judges to exert authority not given to them. 

This is exactly what happened in the district court ruling in Held vs. Montana. 

Instead of giving you my opinion regarding this while ignoring the Constitution (as our District Court did), let’s examine the Montana Constitution. Article III states, “No person or persons charged with the exercise of power properly belonging to one branch shall exercise any power properly belonging with of the others.”

In essence, each branch of state government has distinct and separate roles.

Article IX, Environment and Natural Resources, is comprised of seven sections. This is where the right to a clean and healthful environment is found, the hinge on which the Held lawsuit swings.

Section 1 states, “The state and each person shall maintain a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” The very next sentence states, “The Legislature shall provide for the administration and enforcement of this duty” (emphasis added). The directive could not be clearer. 

It is the designated responsibility of the Legislative branch to define policy. The Montana district court ruling in Held vs. Montana wandered beyond constitutional directive into policy making. Article IX directs oversight, management and responsibility of Montana’s environment and natural resources 13 times to the Legislature. 

Not once was the Judicial branch mentioned in Article IX, nor given any power to set policy or direction. Thirteen distinct times our Constitution explicitly gave the Legislature the enforcement of balancing the right of ‘a clean and healthful environment’ and now a Montana District court has erroneously ruled in lieu of the legislature. 

Thirteen to zero, how could the authors of our Constitution make it any clearer? 

Regardless of the issue, we must uphold the function of our state government and not pervert the role of the Judicial Branch. I look forward to the Montana Supreme Court following the Constitution, upholding the integrity of the court, and placing this issue back where it belongs - in the legislature. 

A legislature elected by the people and closest to the people. The Capitol legislative hearing room is where the public testifies, where legislators respond to our constituents and set environmental policy as our Constitution directs. That does not happen in a courtroom and never should.

Matt Regier, Speaker Montana House