New Campus Carries Montana Law Raises State Constitutional Questions
The University of Montana board of trustees obtained an injunction temporarily suspending the implementation of a new state law allowing the open and concealed carrying of firearms on public college campuses, which was scheduled to enter effective June 1.
The passage of HB102, which significantly restricts the ability of regents to ban the carrying of firearms on campuses, has sparked a legal battle over whether the Republican-controlled legislature has overstepped its bounds and usurped the authority that the Montana constitution grants the Board of Regents to define Campus Strategies.
the state constitution, ratified in 1972, grants the Board of Regents “full powers, responsibility and authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the Montana university system.”
The regents argue in a lawsuit that “by restricting the authority of the BOR to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the presence and use of firearms on MUS [Montana University System] campus in whatever manner the Council considers best to “ensure the health and stability of MUS”… the legislature has exercised control over MUS and has inadmissibly violated the authority of the BOR. “
Casey Lozar, chairman of the Board of Regents, said the new legislation could violate the council’s constitutional authority.
“We’re basically looking for clarification on the unique constitutional roles of the major stakeholders in the state of Montana,” he said.
The current Council of Regents gun policy allows individual campuses to establish policies regarding the transportation and storage of firearms. The board argued that without an injunction, “40,000 MUS students will not know whether they need to comply with HB102 or the existing BOR 1006 policy.”
In a public comment to the BOR, students, parents, leaders of campus and other constituencies expressed serious concerns about campus safety; student enrollment and retention; faculty, [and] suicide prevention, ”says their trial.
The Montana attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The regents are not the only ones to prosecute HB102.
The Montana Federation of Public Employees filed a separate lawsuit in the Montana Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of HB102, along with other plaintiffs, including ex-regents, faculty, and students, as well as a former commissioner of Higher Education. Union president Amanda Curtis said the groups plan to re-file their challenge in district court after Supreme Court rejected their petition to take up the matter directly, ruling that there is “no urgency or urgency factor rendering the litigation before the courts of first instance and the normal appeal process inadequate”.
“We brought this complaint because we still have and continue to believe that Montana’s constitution means something and that this legislature, or any other body politic, is not all powerful and cannot simply impose its will by- one of the best constitutions on it. in the United States, ”Curtis said. She said that the MFPE has among its members professors and staff from public universities, including university police officers.
The civil servants union is challenging several other new laws in addition to the campus law. These included HB112, which prohibits track and field teams in public schools and universities from allowing trans athletes to participate in women’s sports; HB349, which limits the ability of public institutions to discipline students for harassment related to their speech, except in certain circumstances; and SB319, which prohibits groups from organizing “voter identification efforts, voter registration campaigns, signature collection efforts, ballot collection efforts, or voter participation efforts for an election.” federal, state, local or school building within a residence, restaurant or sports center operated by a public post-secondary institution. SB319 would also require students to agree, rather than opt out, to pay elective student fees used to support student organizations engaged in political activities.
“Although the line between the power of the regents and the authority of the legislature is not always clear, the contested measures cross the line. They all constitute a legislative attack on the constitutional prerogative of the regents, ”said the MFPE and its co-complainants in their complaint to the Supreme Court.
Anthony Johnstone, Helen and David Mason professor of law at the University of Montana, said the state’s constitution grants the Board of Regents rare autonomy.
“Not all states have constitutional protections for university autonomy; when states have constitutional protections, some are stronger and some are weaker, ”he said. “Montana is widely regarded as one of the strongest in the country. “
Johnstone said legal arguments are likely to focus on the extent to which the laws at issue have a specific impact on academic policy decisions versus the extent to which they are more general in scope.
“The principle here is that you have this core of university autonomy and then you have all these more general laws that apply elsewhere that no one would claim universities are exempt from, like minimum wage laws,” he said. -he declares.
“Unlike general laws enacted to protect public health, safety and welfare statewide, each of these laws calls to some degree on the university system,” Johnstone said. “That would distinguish it from these more general laws. At the same time, they also refer to more general constitutional rights enjoyed by all Montanais, whether you are in the university system or not. I think what the courts are going to ask is how close are these laws to this core of university autonomy and its underlying principles of academic freedom or, on the other hand, is about -it simply general protections of the public health, safety and welfare of the state. “
The legislature allocated $ 1 million in funding to implement the Campus Portage Act, but made that funding conditional on the Board of Regents not initiating legal action to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
State Representative Seth Berglee, the main sponsor of HB102, said in a written statement that it is “unfortunate that the Board of Regents has chosen to sue to block HB 102 because it believes its authority is so absolute that it can constitutionally deny a student- rights protected. (The text of HB102 refers to the constitutional right of Montanais to bear arms.)
“The constitutional rights of the Montanese do not end when they enter a college campus,” Berglee said. “The safety of students and teachers depends on the ability of responsible people to defend themselves and those around them. It is disappointing that the Board of Regents is taking legal action to protect its own power instead of working to protect the safety of students.