Montana Law Week
The Blewett School of Law's annual law week was held April 3-6, 2018:
Tuesday, April 3:
Tuesday of Law Week featured a Lunch Hour Panel sponsored by the Montana State Bar.
Thursday, April 5:
At 5:00 p.m., the James R. Browning Distinguished Lecture in Law returned for 2018 and welcomed Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sponsored by The Montana Law Review.
Friday, April 6:
The Montana Supreme Court Oral Argument took place at 9:00 a.m. at the Dennison Theatre. This presentation was recorded by Missoula Community Access Television as part of a Media Assistance Grant donated to the Blewett School of Law by MCAT. Live streaming was available during the event and is now available for viewing at www.facebook.com/MissoulaCommunityTelevision/videos.
The argued case was KENDRA ESPINOZA, JERI ELLEN ANDERSON and JAIME SCHAEFER, Plaintiffs and Appellees, v. MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE and MIKE KADAS, in his official capacity as DIRECTOR of the MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Defendants and Appellants:
In 2015, the Montana Legislature passed a law to provide a $150 tax credit to donors supporting scholarships for private schools. Article X, section 6 of the 1972 Montana Constitution contains a “no aid” provision that prohibits "any direct or indirect appropriation or payment from any public fund or monies, or any grant of lands or other property for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.” After hearing concerns about the tax credit’s constitutionality, the Legislature inserted into the law an instruction that it “must be administered in compliance” with this “no aid” provision and a related section of the Montana Constitution. Nearly 90% of the otherwise eligible private schools in Montana have a religious affiliation. Citing the Legislature’s instruction, the Montana Department of Revenue implemented the law with a rule that religious schools are ineligible for scholarships supported by the tax credits. (At the same time, a majority of legislators polled after the session said religious schools should be eligible, notwithstanding the law’s reference to the “no aid” provision.)
A group of school parents in Flathead County wanted scholarships supported by the tax credit for their children to attend religious schools. They sued the Department of Revenue in state district court, making two arguments. First, they argue that the Department’s rule is not authorized by the tax credit law passed by the Legislature, and that the tax credit is constitutional under “no aid” provision. Second, they argue that the Department’s rule unconstitutionally discriminates against religious schools under the Montana and United States Constitutions. A district court agreed with the first argument, and enjoined the Department from enforcing the rule. The Department appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, arguing that without the rule the state would be aiding religious education in violation of the “no aid” provision of the Montana Constitution. Several interest groups from Montana and across the nation have filed briefs in the case as amici curiae, or friends of the Court. The Court will hear arguments from the Department and the parents.
Photography by Todd Goodrich