Lawsuits are brought to overturn ‘unconstitutional’ bills affecting Montana universities ~ Missoula Current

(Missoula current file)

HELENA – A broad coalition of labor groups and Montana university students, professors and former officials filed a lawsuit Thursday to overturn four new laws, calling them a dangerous and unconstitutional intrusion into the power of the Board of Regents to manage state colleges.

The complaint filed directly with the Montana Supreme Court also came on the same day the state’s Board of Regents did the same, bringing an action to quash parts of the law. ban the regents to ban guns on state campuses.

The council voted unanimously on Wednesday to file its complaint. The two lawsuits have asked the Supreme Court to issue an emergency order preventing the gun law from coming into force on June 1.

While the Regents’ lawsuit refers only to parts of the gun law that require firearms to be permitted on campus, the other lawsuit follows three other measures adopted by the Republican majority in the Legislative Assembly of 2021 and enacted by Republican Governor Greg Gianforte.

  • Bill n ° 112, which prohibits transgender athletes from playing on college sports teams that do not match their gender at birth.
  • Senate Bill 319, which bans political groups from conducting voter registration and voter turnout efforts on state campuses and bans a University of Montana funding mechanism for an activist group housed on campus, MontPIRG.
  • House Bill 349, which creates new guidelines for free speech and anti-harassment policies on state campuses.

The coalition lawsuit said it did not target specific policies in the bills, but rather sought to “justify the power (of the council of) regents” to run the state university system, free from diktat legislative.

“Although the line between the power of the regents and the authority of the legislature is not always clear, the contested measures are beyond the limits,” said the lawsuit.

The legislature has the power to allocate money to the university system, to ensure accountability for those funds and to legislate “for the general welfare,” the lawsuit said.

But the state’s constitution gives the Board of Regents the power to run the system, as a separate ministry, including issues such as gun ownership, athletics, and student harassment policies, a- he declared.

“Regents have both the authority and the ability to deal (with guns on campus),” the costume said. “It is not for a dominant majority in the legislature to impose their views on firearms on state universities.”

Plaintiffs in the coalition lawsuit include two former regents, former higher education commissioner Larry Pettit, three professors, three students, two groups of professors and the Montana Federation of Public Employees.

“The people of Montana… demand that our constitution be upheld and respected,” said Amanda Curtis, president of the MFPE. “House Bills 102, 112, 349 and Senate Bill 319 are blatantly irresponsible and go against the Montana constitution.”

The lawsuit named State and Governor Gianforte as defendants; the regents’ trial named Attorney General Austin Knudsen as the defendant.

“Despite what the Liberal Board of Regents wants to believe, they do not have the power to deprive Montana students of their constitutionally protected rights – the 2nd Amendment included,” Knudsen replied Friday.

A spokesperson for Knudsen also said on Friday that the coalition’s trial, led by the MFPE, was an attempt by the group and its allies to succeed in court where they failed at the polls last November.

“The Montanese overwhelmingly rejected the extremist Democrats’ agenda in November, so they are adopting the national playbook used against Trump: file as many lawsuits as possible before left-wing judges,” said Emilee Cantrell. “This is why reforming the Montana justice system and ending the practice of liberal lawyers who hand-pick judges are so important to the future of the state.”

Cantrell’s statement refers to yet another new law that gives Governor Gianforte more direct authority to appoint judges, rather than an appointments commission that’s been in place for 50 years. This law has also been challenged in the courts as being unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs in the coalition lawsuit filed on Thursday said they had been planning their lawsuit for several weeks, but wanted to synchronize their efforts with any legal action taken by the regents.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs raised a number of concerns about the new laws – including students citing fears for their own personal safety, due to the gun law, and “negative effects on enrollment. because of the concerns of prospective students and their parents in relation to students. campus security.

Regents’ lawsuit said the bill prohibiting them from banning guns on campus has “inadmissibly restricted (their) authority to determine the best policies to ensure the health and stability of Montana’s university system . “

Regents have banned the possession of firearms on state campuses for nearly 30 years – except by campus security guards.

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