Montana Supreme Court excels in performance measures | Columnists

Montana Supreme Court excels in performance measures | Columnists


Greg Munro


The Montana Supreme Court has recently been attacked as part of a sustained effort to undermine the judicial branch in Montana so that it cannot perform its constitutional role of acting as a check on the executive and legislative branches. The attack is political, and the attackers can produce no evidence that the court is underperforming, because, in fact, empirical evidence shows the opposite.

Performance of the Montana Supreme Court has, since 2008, been measured every other year by means of a survey that produces data that is valid, reliable and usable in rating the court.

Remarkably, the Montana Supreme Court’s overall average approval rating in 2020 was 90%. In the 12 years from 2008 to 2020, the court’s performance has consistently improved from an impressive 72% in 2008 to 90% in 2018 and 2020. The survey participants are those who most closely observe the workings of the court: lawyers who argue cases in front of the justices, state court trial judges whose decisions are appealed to the court, and law school faculty who research and study the court and its decisions for purposes of teaching and scholarly writing. Their survey input is anonymous.

It is notable that the survey participants include lawyers who may have won or lost cases, judges whose trial court decisions are appealed to the court and may have been affirmed or reversed, and law professors who may agree or disagree with individual decisions. The participants likely are both rural and urban, conservative and liberal. Among the survey’s 10 measures of performance are the following:

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