Montana Election Law Must Be Pared, not Axed

     (CN) – A federal judge improperly blocked Montana’s entire campaign-finance law regarding judicial candidates, rather than eliminating a problematic section, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.
     This marks the second time the case has gone before the federal appeals court. In September 2012, a divided panel in Seattle had enjoined the endorsement prong of Section 13-35-231.
     That decision agreed with the Sanders County Republican Central Committee (SCRCC) that the ban on endorsements infringed free-speech rights.
     On remand to Helena, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell canceled the trial date and, finding additional motions “superfluous,” blocked the law in its entirety.
     But the panel found Friday that the contributions portion of the statute should not have been lumped into the too-broad injunction because it was never up for debate.
     “The District Court, apparently under the mistaken impression that this court had found section 13-35-231 unconstitutional in all respects, entered a permanent injunction against the enforcement of section 13-35-231 in its entirety, including the statute’s ban on contributions by a political party to a judicial candidate,” wrote U.S.
     District Judge Jed Rakoff, who sat on the panel by designation from the Southern District of New York. “In its decision of September 17, 2012, this court had not reached the issue of the statute’s ban on contributions, noting that the Committee ‘does not here challenge Montana’s ban on contributions to judicial candidates by political parties.’ Nor in the brief proceedings before the district court after the matter was remanded following our decision did the Committee challenge the statute’s ban on contributions. And in its submission on the instant appeal, the Committee once again disavows any such challenge.”
     The panel once again sent the case back to Helena, this time “with instructions to revise the permanent injunction so that it enjoins only the statute’s ban on endorsements and expenditures, and not the statute’s ban on contributions.”

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