On the Chopping Block

Those who value Montana’s Constitution are concerned—terrified, actually—of what the Legislature’s supermajority (and its new Freedom Caucus) are going to try to do to it this session.

Here’s how it can happen:  Article XIV of our Constitution sets forth how it can be revised:

 Section 1 provides that the supermajority can submit to the voters the question of whether there should be an unlimited convention to revise, alter, or amend the Constitution.  Section 4 provides that if a majority of those voting answer in the affirmative, the Legislature will provide for calling the convention at its next session.  Among other things, the Legislature decides whether the 100 delegates shall be elected on a partisan or non-partisan basis. Section 7 provides that any revisions, alterations or amendments adopted by the convention will then be submitted to the electors for ratification or rejection.

Section 8 provides that the supermajority can submit referendums to amend the Constitution, which, if approved by a majority of electors, become part of the Constitution.

Importantly, We the People ultimately get to decide to accept or reject any proposed revisions, alterations or amendments to the Constitution, however they’re placed on the ballot.

Here’s what can happen:  There’s hardly a legislator in the supermajority that doesn’t have a bone to pick with some provision in our Constitution.  Don’t forget, it’s been called a “socialist rag” that should be thrown out.  So, expect to see on a ballot coming to you a raft of proposed revisions, alterations and amendments.

These might include, by way of non-exclusive examples, changes to our Article II rights to:

+ a clean and healthful environment and to pursue life’s basic necessities and seek safety, health and happiness. § 3.

+ inviolable human dignity, to equal protection of the laws and to be free from discrimination.  4.

+ not have somebody else’s religious beliefs shoved down your throat.   5

+ peaceably assemble, petition the government for redress, and protest governmental action. § 6.

+ free speech and to a free press. § 7

+ participate in the operation and rule-making of state agencies. § 8.

+ examine public documents and to observe the deliberations of all public bodies. § 9.

+ individual privacy, especially in matters related to reproductive choices, in matters affecting your personal autonomy, in matters pertaining to your private medical and personal information, to name a few. §10.

+ free and open elections and to vote without interference from the government. § 13.

+ access to fair, independent and impartial courts and to full legal redress for injuries to person or property. 16.

+ due process of law. 17.

+ be free from cruel and unusual punishments. 18

+ the host of rights protecting persons accused of crimes. § 20-26.

Expect other potential revisions, alterations or amendments to:

+ Article V: giving the legislature more power, especially over the courts, elections, districting, governance of the university system, and over local governments.

+ Article VII: expect numerous revisions, alterations and amendments all designed to place the courts and Judiciary under the thumb of the Legislature, to gerrymander the election of judges and justices to favor the supermajority party, to turn a fair, impartial and independent judiciary into partisan hacks and flunkies, to destroy the separation of powers and system of checks and balances.

+ Article IX: to repeal the legislature’s duties to maintain and improve our clean and healthful environment for present and future generations and to enact laws to enforce those duties.

+ Article X: to diminish public free and quality education and education concerning the cultural heritage of Montana’s Native Americans. And to give more financial breaks and more favors to sectarian schools.

+ Article XIII: to get rid of the Consumer Counsel altogether.

These are just some of the ways in which the Legislature supermajority/Montana Freedom Caucus may seek to review, alter or amend our Constitution.

The whole document may wind up on the chopping block unless we vote to save it.

James C. Nelson a retired Montana Supreme Court justice. He lives in of Helena.