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Fight continues against government secrecy

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News from Upper Seven Law

HELENA — On June 13, 2024, a group of Montana voters responded to Senator Keith Regier’s unprecedented attempt to avoid discovery of documents related to partisan gerrymandering of the Public Service Commission (“PSC”). A district court previously held that the PSC district map likely was an illegal partisan gerrymander—meaning that the map likely was drawn to prevent legitimate political competition for the five PSC seats.

The voters seek information from Senator Regier—the map’s sponsor—consistent with ordinary discovery procedures. Senator Regier claims an extraordinary ability to evade those procedures. The “absolute legislative privilege” he asserts, which has never been recognized in Montana, would prevent citizens from accessing any nonpublic information about the Legislature. If this privilege were adopted, legislators could shield essentially all legislative materials from public view.

As the voters argue, the Montana Constitution cannot abide such secrecy. The right to know—unique among state constitutions—guarantees that individuals may “examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government,” with no exception for legislators.

“Legislative privilege threatens voters’ ability to hold elected officials accountable,” said Whitney Tawney, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters. “This is especially damaging in gerrymandering cases because gerrymandering interferes with accountability by engineering election results.”

“The Right to Know is critical to maintaining transparency in government,” said Constance Van Kley, attorney for the plaintiffs. “Absolute legislative privilege would eviscerate the fundamental right to access government information—and hold government actors accountable at the ballot box.”

Montana nonprofit law firm Upper Seven Law represents the plaintiffs. A copy of the response accompanies this press release.

About the Plaintiffs:

Montana Conservation Voters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Montana’s climate, communities, and future generations by supporting leaders who fight for conservation and by holding accountable leaders who do not. MCV’s work will bolster a robust democracy and increase civic engagement to strengthen our conservation efforts and ensure Montana’s redistricting commission remains fair.

 The Individual Plaintiff Voters are:

Joseph Lafromboise, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy and PSC District 1 voter;

Nancy Hamilton, a Valley County resident and District 1 voter;

Simon Harris, a Yellowstone County resident and District 1 voter;

Donald Seifert, a Gallatin County resident and District 2 voter;

Daniel Hogan, a Butte-Silver Bow County and District 3 voter;

George Stark, a Missoula County resident and District 4 voter;

Lukas Illion, a Lewis & Clark County resident and District 5 voter; and

Bob Brown, a Flathead County resident, District 5 voter, and former legislator, Montana Secretary of State, and gubernatorial candidate.


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