Montana State Court Blocks Provisions of New Voter Suppression Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Feb. 3, a Montana state court permanently blocked portions of a new election law for violating the Montana Constitution. The plaintiffs in Forward Montana v. Montana filed a lawsuit last May against two provisions of Senate Bill 319 that ban political committees from engaging in voter registration and education activities on public college campuses and require judges to recuse themselves from cases if a party or attorney before them donated to their campaign. The complaint alleges that this law violates the First Amendment and multiple provisions of the Montana Constitution, which require that a bill “shall contain only one subject” and prohibits drastic amendments during the legislative process that alter the original purpose of the bill. In July 2021, the court entered a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the challenged provisions while the case proceeded, finding that it “is necessary in this instance to preserve the status quo and to prevent irreparable injury to Plaintiffs.” 

Yesterday, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and converted the previous preliminary injunction to a permanent injunction, meaning that the two challenged provisions of S.B. 319 are permanently blocked, pending any action upon appeal. In his order, the judge outlined how S.B. 319 was defined as a campaign finance bill when it was introduced, but amendments targeting voter registration and judicial campaign contributions were added at the eleventh hour followed by a 16-minute hearing closed to the public. Despite the defendants’ argument that S.B. 319 remains a campaign finance law as enacted, the judge found that neither of the challenged provisions fall under the category of campaign finance, violating the Montana Constitution’s “single subject rule.” Further, the judge held that the bill “was amended during its passage through the legislature to an extent the bill’s original purpose was changed,” also in violation of the Montana Constitution. While these two challenged provisions are blocked, the remaining provisions of S.B. 319 remain intact. 

Read the order here.