Justices on the Montana Supreme Court have to use their life experiences in rendering decisions, and Nels Swandal thinks his experience will serve him well if he is elected.
Swandal is running in the Nov. 2 election for a vacant seat on the court. He lives on the Livingston County ranch where he was born, has been a public defender, an Army lawyer on active duty and in the Reserves, a National Guard attorney, and a judge.
His judicial experience will be especially beneficial, he said, since his opponent, Beth Baker of Helena, has never been a judge.
Swandal said many judges and attorneys asked him to run when the seat became vacant. He is pleased to have been endorsed by state District Judge David Rice of Havre.
Swandal was in Havre Wednesday as part of a statewide tour.
Swandal said the conventional wisdom is that he is the conservative in the race, and that Baker is more liberal. Several of his campaign aides have had experience on the staff of Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
But he said his philosophy will have no effect on his decision-making, should he be elected to the court.
"You weigh each case and make a decisions based on the facts and the law," he said.
His philosophy on the court might be something of a balance to the generally liberal beliefs on the court.
"Most of the court is liberal, and I think most of the judges would tell you they are liberal," he said.
Swandal said he strongly supports the privacy clause in the Montana State Constitution, saying it gives the public protection from government intrusion.
He said the judiciary should be more open to public scrutiny.
If elected, he will hold periodic town hall meetings, during which he can talk about what the court does and people will be able to ask questions about court decisions he has been involved with.
"Of course, I couldn't comment on pending cases," he said. "But I think these meetings would help the public understand what the court does."
He would also open up court deliberations to the public, though he admits, "I may be the only one who thinks this way.
"I don't think there would be much interest in a divorce case or something like that," he said. "But on cases involving the constitution, I think people would be interested."
While court proceedings are open to the public and generally to television cameras, justices deliberate in private.