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Friends of the Montana Constitution is a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit that celebrates and supports the Montana Constitution and the people, processes and places that helped to create it fifty years ago in 1972.

Montana's State Constitution 50th Anniversary

The purposes of Friends of the Montana Constitution shall include but not be limited to promoting and enhancing the public’s understanding and appreciation of the 1972 Montana Constitution; advancing civics education at all levels about the 1972 Montana Constitution; and recognizing and celebrating the 1972 Constitutional Convention and its delegates.

Featured Opinion

Mary Sheehy Moe: HB 517? Just say ‘Whoa’

No community in Montana more scrupulously attends to civil liberties than a Montana University System campus. So I was disturbed by comments last week supporting HB 517, proposing a constitutional referendum to let the legislature, not the regents, set the parameters for campus policies affecting constitutional freedoms.

Students told tales of woe ranging from getting poor grades or being ostracized for their views, to having to listen to faculty’s political rants and not being able to find faculty willing to advise their political club. More chillingly, one student claimed his life had been threatened when he was “tabling” for a conservative cause on campus. (A shouting match ensued. Police responded, characterized the incident as disorderly conduct on the part of two students, and issued a warning to both.)

Listening, I was puzzled. Every Montana campus has well-vetted processes for lodging complaints. When the issue is criminal, police take over. When the complaint involves civil liberties or even just dissatisfaction with a grade, every campus has a venue for hearing the complaint, gathering the facts, applying the appropriate policy, and rendering an impartial decision. That decision can be appealed and re-appealed, often all the way to the Board of Regents.

None of the students complaining at the hearing had availed themselves of these processes. Some didn’t even know about them. They blamed the university system for that as well.

But these were young people, new to the exercise of their civil liberties. The same cannot be said of the bill’s sponsor. Like the students, without ever bringing his concerns to the government entity responsible for responding to them — the Board of Regents — he bashed the board for operating as “an island of its own constitutional authority.”

“They’re doing a great job,” he conceded, “but they’re in no way, shape, or form equipped to be constitutional arbiters” of civil rights on our campuses. Hmmm … and the legislature is? A constantly changing group of 150 people, few of whom have backgrounds in law or academia, meeting for 90 days every other year?

What’s really going on with HB 517 is a tale as old as time: A kid doesn’t like the answer he got from Mom so he goes to Dad. Last year, Republican legislators got an answer they didn’t like from Montana’s Supreme Court when the regents challenged HB 102, a 2021 bill requiring campuses to allow firearms on campus.

College campuses are among the settings the United States Supreme Court recognized as “sensitive” enough to warrant limiting Second Amendment freedoms. After hearing from thousands of Montanans, the regents made that call. Montana’s Supreme Court unanimously held that our constitution leaves no doubt it was the regents’ call to make.

So the bill sponsor wants you to overrule the supreme courts of this state and nation, as well as a nonpartisan Board of Regents, and leave all decisions about civil liberties on campus to — surprise! — legislators. Good ole l’etat c’est moi. If HB 517 dealt only with the Second Amendment on Montana campuses, I wouldn’t be as concerned. But HB 517 wants to make the legislature the arbiter of ALL civil rights on campus. The sponsor assures us the bill won’t affect academic matters, just civil liberties, but it’s simply impossible to separate those liberties, especially those enshrined in the First Amendment, from research, teaching and learning.

On the pretext of protecting civil liberties, the legislature could prescribe which books can be assigned in classrooms and available in libraries, which instructors to criminalize for their research or advising, which students to restrict from expressing themselves and which programs to discontinue. You’ve been following this legislature. Can you doubt that they will?

The legislature has a role. The courts have a role. The regents have a role. This legislature wants to assume all of them. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We’ve been down this road before. Before the 1972 constitution insulated the university system from legislative shenanigans, higher education in Montana was nationally blacklisted — repeatedly! — for its abuses of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Today, thanks in large part to the hard work of an unpaid board of public servants, it’s arguably Montana’s greatest government-created asset.

If we can keep it.

News & Opinions

March 11, 2023 / Opinion

Montana values and our 1972 state Constitution

“Montana values” is an elusive concept, reflecting the varying ideologies and ambitions of Montana citizens since the state’s creation in 1889. Today’s trendy buzzword overlooks the diversity of backgrounds, opinions and prejudices of the state’s rural and urban populace. Montana values have always depended on who’s doing the talking.
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February 21, 2023 / Opinion

Marc Racicot: Citizen grand juries will create chaos

House Bill 405 proposes a substantial amendment to the Montana Constitution in an attempt to create something known as a “citizen’s grand jury.” Apparently, the bill is meant to fulfill the objective of a “Platform Principle” adopted by the Montana Republican Party which states that: “We…support reforming the Grand Jury laws to better root out corruption and support limiting the ability of the Montana Supreme Court to abuse its power to protect themselves.”
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February 21, 2023 / Opinion

Jim Goetz: Do we have a constitutional right to be ‘let alone?’

What is your favorite constitutional provision? Many would answer the First Amendment. With its speech protections, it is preservative of all other freedoms. Others, on the same rationale, might prefer the right to vote.
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February 19, 2023 / News

Roger Wagner, 80, Montana ConCon Delegate from Nashua Passes

The world lost a beloved Montanan on Tuesday, January 31, 2023 when Roger Wagner of Nashua passed from congestive heart failure. He was a family man who loved celebrations and was dedicated to making his community a better place.
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February 15, 2023 / News

Bill to make nonpartisan races partisan draws opposition

Lewis and Clark County Justice of the Peace Mike Swingley told Montana Senate State Administration Committee that he cannot imagine what adding partisan politics to nonpartisan races would do to his job. He has had to avoid the pressure of his own mother, who once called to tell him to go easy on a man in jail because she knew the man’s mother.
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February 13, 2023 / Opinion

Amending Montana’s Constitution Thoughtfully

2022 was the year of celebrating the fiftieth birthday of Montana’s Constitution — its visionary provisions and the unique bipartisan approach adopted by the citizen delegates who wrote it. Our perspective is from a combined total of over 30 years of legislative experience under both our current Constitution, as well as the one that preceded it.
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February 13, 2023 / Opinion

Racicot: Legislature violating trust with constitution amendments

Alexander Hamilton asked the question: “whether men {and women] are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” What will our answer be?
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February 11, 2023 / News

Chair breaks with Democrats to pass a legislative map, completing redistricting process

Redistricting Commission Chair Maylinn Smith broke with Democrats to pass Montana’s legislative map on Saturday, marking the end of over three years of work from the commission. Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission voted 3-2, with Republicans opposed, on a map to divide the state into 100 house districts, with 50 senate district pairings after accepting recommendations from the legislature on their tentative map proposed in December.
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February 11, 2023 / Opinion

Redistricting & Apportionment Commission Needs No Fixing

The redistricting wrangling is now over. The Commission has made its decision, will formally file the legislative district structure, and the 2024 elections will move forward. For the sixth time that the difficult and politically-charged redistricting process has been handled by the Commission created by the 1972 Constitutional Convention (ConCon).
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February 10, 2023 / News

Attorneys general from 23 GOP-led states back suit seeking to block abortion pill

Attorneys general representing nearly two dozen Republican states are backing a lawsuit that would remove the abortion pill from throughout the United States after more than two decades, eliminating the option even in states where abortion access remains legal. The state of Missouri filed its own brief in the case Friday while Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed a brief on behalf of her state as well as Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
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