JKRAUTTER MUG

Joel Krautter

After a hearing last Friday, January 7, 2022, a three-judge panel has granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. This ruling comes as part of Bob Brown, Hailey Sinoff, and Donald Seifert’s lawsuit, filed in December, that challenges Montana’s Public Service Commission (“PSC”) districts.

The PSC districts were last drawn in 2003 and now contain extremely unequal populations—nearly 25% more people live in District 5 than live in District 1. Population differences between districts that exceed 10% are presumed unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s one-person, one-vote rule. Because voters in overpopulated districts have less voting power than other voters, large population disparities interfere with the right to cast an equal vote.

The three-judge panel’s order prevents Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen from certifying candidates for the 2022 PSC elections while the case is pending. Attorney Constance Van Kley represented plaintiffs in the hearing Friday, where she explained that the Montana Legislature has refused, despite many opportunities, to redraw district boundaries to reflect current population levels or to create any mechanism to ensure that regular redistricting will occur.

“The Court recognized the unconstitutional nature of the current Public Service Commission map,” said Plaintiffs’ co-counsel Joel Krautter. “We look forward to seeing a solution that will protect voters’ constitutional right to cast an equal vote in the 2022 election.”

The court has ordered the parties to brief the issues on an expedited basis and will hear argument on March 4, 2022, ahead of the March 14 candidate filing deadline.

Joel Krautter, Constance Van Kley, and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan represent Brown, Sinoff, and Siefert. Krautter, a former state representative, practices with the Netzer Law Office, which has offices in Sidney and Billings. Van Kley and Sommers-Flanagan lead Upper Seven Law, a Helena-based nonprofit law firm dedicated to holding the powerful accountable.

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