The Montana Supreme Court Versus the Rule of Law

By Robert G. Natelson, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence, Montana Policy Institute

Click here for full study. (PDF – 3.77MB)

Executive Summary

There is a consensus among researchers that adherence to the rule of law is crucial to vigorous economic growth. Montana’s economy has lagged the economy of most of the United States since the 1980s, and this MPI Study explains one reason why: The Montana Supreme Court, the final authority in the state on most legal questions, has not honored the rule of law. Its failure to do so has harmed wealth and job creation in Montana.

In this Study, Professor Rob Natelson, the Institute’s Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence, first examines what it means to honor the rule of law. He identifies five components: clarity, stability, notice, fairness, and restraint. He then shows how the rule of law is important to a state’s economy. The American Founders understood this, and Professor Natelson cites provisions they inserted into the U.S. Constitution to protect the rule of law.

He then explains why the Montana Supreme Court is more influential within state boundaries than most tribunals of its kind, giving it a significant impact on the Montana economy.

The heart of the Study is its comparison of rule-of-law standards with the court’s actual practices. The comparison is based partly on previous scholarly research and partly on a new case-by-case analysis of some of the court’s most important opinions. Professor Natelson concludes that the court frequently diverges from rule of law standards, and that this conduct presents a serious barrier to prosperity in Montana.

 

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