Montana: Angry that parental notification of abortion law may be overturned, legislator wants deliberations of state supreme court made open to public

At the November 2012 ballot, 70% of Montana voters approved LR-120, a statue referred to the ballot by the legislature to require parental notification prior to a minor obtaining an abortion. Angry that it appears likely that the Montana Supreme Court could or may strike that statute down as unconstitutional, and citing a open meetings provision in the state constitution, a member of the Montana House has introduced a bill to mandate the seven members of the Montana Supreme Court deliberate not in chambers or in a conference room, but in a public forum.

HB 424 would amend the state’s Open Public Meetings Law to repeal an exemption that “The supreme court may close a meeting that involves judicial deliberations in an adversarial proceeding.” During a hearing held yesterday the proponent cited Montana Constitution Art. II, Sec. 9 for the proposition that the court was a “public body or agency” that was required to have its deliberations conducted in public.

No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.
Proponents also argued that the existing exemption for the Supreme Court was unconstitutional in light of another provision in the state constitution that “Courts of justice shall be open to every person…” and claimed that former members of the Montana Supreme Court agreed with this assessment.
Opponents, led by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, noted that the trial court record, appellate documents, briefs, and other documents were open to the public in the appeals process. Moreover, it was noted that the court explained its decisions in its opinions.
No vote was taken at the end of testimony.