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Gazette endorsement: For Supreme Court, retain Justice Laurie McKinnon
GAZETTE ENDORSEMENT

Gazette endorsement: For Supreme Court, retain Justice Laurie McKinnon

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Montana Supreme Court Justice Laurie McKinnon

Montana Supreme Court Justice Laurie McKinnon asks a question during arguments in the Jon Krakauer records request hearing at the Strand Union Building at Montana State University in Bozeman in April 2016.

Laurie McKinnon is a Montana Supreme Court justice, formerly a Montana District Court judge. Nobody has credibly questioned her qualifications, temperament or performance as a Montana Supreme Court justice. Instead, her opponent, Mike Black, has made much of the fact that McKinnon initially decided not to run for reelection.

Somewhat inconveniently for him, she changed her mind.

Black has ascribed, at least by implication, nefarious cause-and-effect around that decision, asking in an OpEd, “Was she promised more dark money support?”

McKinnon replied in an OpEd of her own that “I am a member of the Executive Committee of the Appellate Judges Education Institute of the American Bar Association. Yearly, this nonpartisan committee plans and produces a summit attended by appellate judges and lawyers from across the country. In November 2019, at our Washington, D.C. Summit, I presented a panel discussion called ‘An Independent Judiciary: The Pillar of a Free Society.’ The panel, moderated by a constitutional law professor, consisted of a Chief Judge from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a retired state supreme court justice, and a federal Court of Appeals judge. It is these distinguished colleagues, with whom I have become friends, that helped me decide I could withstand the negative campaign attacks which have permeated our recent judicial elections and encouraged me to run.”

It is true that she received some dark-money support in her last race. So, in the same case, did several respected legislators. We do not believe that a rogue group’s support automatically makes McKinnon a rogue. Far from it.

Black also makes much of the fact that McKinnon purchased a house in North Carolina before deciding to run again. Again, we fail to see why the purchase of real estate should be disqualifying.

While her opponent makes it sound like McKinnon is a laurie-come-lately to Montana, the fact is that she has lived in Montana since 1995, raising a family here and working as a prosecutor before being elected to the District Court and then to the Supreme Court.

Yes, McKinnon has written dissents, not always agreeing with the majority of the Court. We also fail to find that a fatal flaw. Our Supreme Court justices should not all think in lockstep.

We understand and admire Mr. Black’s courtroom record. He is an excellent attorney, is certainly qualified for the Court and may yet win a seat there.

But Justice McKinnon has served honorably and we see no reason to remove her. The so-called reasons that have been proffered by her opponent do not add up to anything of substance, in our view.

We endorse Justice McKinnon for another term on Montana’s high court.

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