HELENA — Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Rice said Thursday he will run for re-election this year to a third eight-year term on the state’s highest court, potentially extending his tenure as the court’s longest-serving justice.
Rice, 64, was appointed to the court in 2001, by then-Gov. Judy Martz. He ran for retainment in the following election year, as any appointed judge must do, and then was re-elected in 2006 and 2014, for eight-year terms.
“The court provides excellent service to the state, both in the quality of legal analysis and the timeliness of decisions, and its work is more important now than ever,” he said. “I would look forward to serving another term.”
So far, no opponent has emerged to challenge Rice. His colleague, Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson, also is up for re-election this year.
The seven-member court has been in the political cross-hairs for the past year, as Republican state lawmakers and Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen have led an effort to question the court’s impartiality, including attempts to acquire internal court emails and communications they alleged may show bias against GOP-passed laws.
The court has rejected GOP attempts to acquire the documents, saying a request from Republican lawmakers exceeded the Legislature’s subpoena power. Knudsen has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Montana justices’ rejection of his request that they should have excused themselves from ruling on the case.
Rice, a former Republican state legislator from Helena, is often seen as one of the court’s more conservative members. Yet he’s been a sharp critic of the GOP efforts to denigrate the court.
Rice said Thursday in his announcement that one of the court’s roles is to “ensure that other branches of government stay within their respective constitutional boundaries.”
“I believe this important judicial responsibility will become even more critical in the years ahead,” he said. “As the reach of government expands at many levels, courts must be increasingly vigilant about protecting individual liberties guaranteed by the constitution and ensuring that the constitutional separation of powers is preserved.”
He also said the Supreme Court must continue to take a leadership role in providing access to justice for those who cannot afford lawyers, and to ensure that courts expand the use of expedited trial procedures for simpler matters, to move them more quickly.