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Guest Editorial: Get to know your judges

As you learn about all the candidates for various offices this year, the most important ones are the ones that most Montanans know the least about. The politicians you need to do the most research on are not the would-be congressmen, governors, or even legislators. It’s the judges.

Although they claim to be above the political fray, judges in Montana are in fact politicians. From the district courts to the state Supreme Court, they’re elected. They have to run campaigns, raise money, and their fate is ultimately decided by voters. Increasingly, judges are also inappropriately wading further into the role of policymakers, acting not as mere arbiters of legal disputes. That makes it all the more important for voters to do their homework.

The stakes over who Montanans put on the bench have never been higher.

Surely, not all judges are overstepping their bounds into legislating from the bench. Enough of them are, however, that Montanans need to be questioning every would-be judge in the state. Problematic judicial rulings on any topic can occur in any local district court, not just the state Supreme Court.

It’s no longer enough for Montanans to wait until the last minute before deciding who to support for judicial positions. Because judges are prohibited from running as Republicans or Democrats and from expressing their opinions on how they’d rule on various issues, reliable information about how a judge will perform on the bench is hard to come by.

If you want to have a judicial branch of government that is committed to the rule of law and separation of powers between the branches of government, now is the time to start doing your research and having discussions about judge candidates.

Voters are the ones with the power to determine whether we have political activists serving as judges or whether we have judges who will keep political ideologies out of their decisions. Inform yourself, and choose wisely.

Sen. Barry Usher, R-Billings, represents parts of Yellowstone, Musselshell, Treasure, Rosebud, and Custer counties.

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