KXLH, a local news station in central Montana, reported Monday that the Montana Republican Party's lawsuit to close its taxpayer-funded primary elections is headed to trial after a ruling from a federal judge. The judge, however, refused to block the use of open primaries in June until the issue is resolved.
Matthew Monforton, an attorney representing state GOP county central committees, said late Monday he’ll appeal Morris’ ruling denying an injunction to block the June 2016 primary while the case is resolved. Monforton said the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could just resolve the case or order the Montana Legislature to establish a new system. Under Montana’s 100-year-old system, any voter can choose in which party primary to vote on election day in June, and help choose that party’s general election candidates.
The party argues that its constitutional right of association is being violated because non-Republican voters "cross over" and try to influence the outcome in legislative districts. However, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris couldn't determine from the evidentiary records whether open primaries create a severe burden on the party's constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court recently refused to hear a case challenging closed primary elections in New Jersey. Plaintiffs argue that not only do closed primaries violate the individual voter's right to non-association, but their right to equal consideration and protection under the Fourteenth Amendment by denying all voters an equal say in elections.
Judge Morris said that even though the Montana GOP has not provided enough evidence to prove a significant burden on its rights, the case does raise enough questions to prevent him from ruling in the state's favor without a trial.