Dear MSSA Friends,

BTW, if you missed my messages about legislative and statewide candidates MSSA has endorsed or supports, those messages are posted on the MSSA Website at

People are asking me who MSSA has endorsed for the two seats open on the Montana Supreme Court (MSC).  MSSA makes no endorsements for the MSC because we have no basis for that – no voting records on gun bills as with former legislators and judicial candidates almost never return MSSA’s Judicial Candidate Questionnaire.  They hide behind an alleged canon of judicial ethics saying they cannot comment on anything that might come before them on the court.  So, voters are expected to buy a pig in a poke – to choose a candidate with no useful information about the candidate.  Unfortunately, the candidate who raises and spends the most money usually wins.  With no data as a basis for an endorsement, MSSA cannot make one.

Still, the inquirer asks, “Okay Gary, what are your personal preferences?”  Alright, here they are:

Corey Swanson for Chief Justice and Dan Wilson for Associate Justice.  If that’s all you want to know, go vote.  If you want more information, keep reading.

Each race has three candidates.  The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the General Election ballot in November.  That’s where the real election contest will be.

Judicial races are allegedly nonpartisan in Montana.  That is, candidates do not file for office under the banner of a political party.  Nevertheless, judicial races are usually a contest between liberal and conservative, especially for the MSC.  If you have read my recent essay on the subject,

, you will know my opinion that the MSC is the last bastion of liberal power in Montana and is fiercely defended by liberals (those who prefer shifting money, power, and choice from people to government).  Conservatives keep trying to break this death grip that the liberals have on Montana via the MSC, but with little success.  This election cycle presents an opportunity to begin breaking out of that bondage.

With that context in mind, it is no surprise that the candidates for these two MSC seats can be described by how they fit into this liberal/conservative struggle.

Let’s talk first about the race for Chief Justice.  The candidates are Jeremiah Lynch, Doug Marshall, and Cory Swanson.

I have little information about Doug Marshall, although he is a trial lawyer.  Trial lawyers are the most important source of money and political support for liberal candidates for judicial positions.  For them, this seems to be more about political power than justice, public service, or constitutional civics.

Jeremiah Lynch is a former U.S. Magistrate.  That is a judicial position with the U.S. District Court with many of the same powers and duties as the lifetime-appointed U.S. District Court Judge.  A Magistrate does much of the busywork for and carries much of the administrative load for the District Court Judge.  Little is known about Lynch’s judicial philosophy.  However, he did rule in a case that denied any right of self-defense when defending against a Grizzly attack.  Thus, he may well be personally hostile to the RKBA.

Cory Swanson has been a county attorney for years.  Swanson has long been an officer in the National Guard.  I have discussed constitutional issues with him (not recently) and know he has a higher regard for the Constitution than many judicial candidates.  As a county attorney and military officer, Swanson is a bit more tolerant of government power than fits well with my quasi-libertarian philosophy.  Still, I like that he seems to have more respect generally for the Constitution than others.  Plus, I hope and believe that Swanson is a strong enough personality to be able to hold his own in the liberal environment of the MSC.

So, in this race for Chief Justice of the MSC, Marshall and Lynch appear to be the liberal offerings and Swanson is the conservative, thus my personal preference for Swanson.

For the MSC seat of Associate Justice, the candidates are Katherine Bidegaray, Jerry O’Neil, and Dan Wilson.

Katherine Bidegary is the known liberal in this race.  Enough said.

Dan Wilson is the known conservative in the race.  There may be questions about his personality and temperament, but I see that as a plus for having the spine necessary to contend with the liberals on the MSC.

Jerry O’Neil is an interesting wildcard.  Jerry is a friend of mine, is also a libertarian and sometimes Libertarian, and has zero chance of getting elected.  First, Jerry is not an attorney, blessed by the brotherhood of the private Bar Association, and current Montana law requires that of candidates for judicial office.  Jerry has a lawsuit pending challenging this requirement.  His lawsuit will be decided by members of the brotherhood he challenges.  Thus, he will lose, I predict, and therefore become ineligible to serve on the MSC.  The brotherhood protects its own.

I cannot resist further comment about this conundrum.  Imagine if to be a candidate for the Legislature it were required that a person must be a member in good standing of the public employees union or the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Or suppose a requirement that a person could not run for public office unless the person had a degree in public administration from a government-accredited university.  Such requirements would be highly improper.  Nevertheless, in order to be a candidate for District Court Judge or MSC Justice, a person must be licensed by the state to practice law, which effectively requires that a person must be a graduate of an accredited law school, have passed the Montana BAR exam, become a member of the Montana BAR Association (controlled by the MSC), and be admitted to the practice of law in Montana.  What a racket!  End of rant.

So, in this Associate Justice race, I prefer Dan Wilson.

Again, for clarification, MSSA makes no endorsement(s) for MSC races because we lack the data for a basis for any endorsement (perhaps by design).

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

--   Gary Marbut, president  Montana Shooting Sports Association  Author, Gun Laws of Montana

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