Scholars from the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center and Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana recently created a central location for materials related to the Montana Constitution. This project serves as an open resource to scholars, students, lawyers, legislators and citizens.
“Many of these materials were out there already, but they were scattered around and weren’t easy to access,” said Robert Saldin, director of the Ethics and Public Affairs program at the Mansfield Center. “Now everything is connected in one easily accessible collection. It’s a real service to the state.”
Materials related to the current Constitution, and the 1972 Constitutional Convention that created it, are at the center of the collection. However, some materials date back to 1884, five years before Montana was incorporated as a state.
For the first time, the collection also publishes online the committee records of citizen testimony that generated most of the new ideas contained in the 1972 Constitution. The Montana Constitutional Collection consists of memos, proceedings, studies, papers and commentary surrounding the creation and adaptation of the Montana Constitution.
UM law professor Anthony Johnstone and Saldin were chatting last year about the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Constitutional Convention and thought it would be the perfect time to work together on the project.
“As scholars of Montana law and government, we felt we were well positioned to put together a collection of materials such as this,” Saldin said. “We wanted to contribute something to the state in conjunction with the [Montana Constitution’s] golden anniversary.”
Students and staff worked with Johnstone and Saldin on the collaborative research project. In particular, Wendy Walker, digital initiatives librarian at the Mansfield Library was invaluable in helping organize the documents into a cohesive collection. Undergraduate student Sam Sullivan played a key role in finding documents in various archives.
“It was great to see people working together to utilize their different skillsets,” said Saldin. “This wouldn’t have been completed without everyone helping.”
Finding the materials and organizing them in one location took about five months to complete, with almost a year of planning before it started.
When asked about interesting findings in the documents, Saldin reflected on how regular Montana citizens were the ones who wrote our current constitution.
“What goes into a state constitution is detailed and complicated,” Saldin said. “It’s easy to assume that you have to be an expert to make any sense of it. But the 1972 Constitution was written by citizens, not lawmakers, and these materials are accessible in a way the public can follow and understand.
“Our role wasn’t as advocates, this was a scholarly project,” he added. “Regardless of whether someone reveres the Montana Constitution or sees it as a problem, we felt this project had value and merit from a scholarly standpoint and a service to the state and its citizens.”
The Montana Constitution Collection is available online.