2020 Primary Preview: Montana Supreme Court

May 22, 2020

Three candidates are vying to fill one of the seven seats on Montana’s Supreme Court. The candidates are pointing to their legal experience ahead into the June 2 primary.

The race is non-partisan and the primary will result in the two candidates with the most votes moving onto the general election in November.

All three candidates are promoting their legal backgrounds and experience.

Mike Black has practiced law in Montana for about 30 years, representing and suing mining, railroad and insurance companies. He also worked in the state Attorney General’s office for about four years with that work ending in 2015.

“And a lot of that work was defending Montana’s laws with respect to campaign finance and disclosure. I fought a lot of dark money groups," Black said. 

This is Black’s second time running for a seat on the court. He unsuccessfully ran to replace Justice Brian Norris in 2014 when he was appointed to the federal bench.

Missoula attorney Mars Scott says he would like to bring his area of expertise in family and civil law to the court.

“Criminal law is well represented up there but some of the areas of law are not necessarily well represented,” Scott said. 

Both Scott and Black are taking swipes at incumbent Laurie McKinnon for initially saying she wasn’t going to run for a second eight-year term. Both Black and Scott question why she changed her mind.

McKinnon says she shied away from running again because of attack ads run during her first campaign by outside groups against her then opponent Ed Sheehy, which made the race contentious. McKinnon has denounced the ads. She said the thought of that happening again was daunting.

“I changed my mind really when I visited with some friends, other appellate judges at a conference. They gave me so very good advice, which was the worst reason not to run was fear of losing," McKinnon said. 

McKinnon is asking voters to focus on her six years of experience as a district judge and the roughly 2,000 cases she’s heard on the state supreme court. McKinnon says she’s written majority opinions in about a fifth of those cases.

Jim Shea is running unopposed for reelection in District 6.