VanDyke campaigns for high court


Last updated 10/1/2014 at 10:08am

Lawrence VanDyke has never run for office or been involved in partisan politics except for a contribution to his friend Tim Fox’ campaign for Montana attorney general.

Now he finds himself in a statewide race for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court.

On Nov.4, he will face Justice Mike Wheat in a nonpartisan race for an eight-year term on the state’s highest court.

As VanDyke sees it, Montana’s highest court, in general, and his opponent, in particular, is interested in what he calls “results-oriented decisions.”

The court often decides results it thinks is best and finds the legal means to rule in that favor, he said.

The result, he said, is that the Montana court is one of the most inconsistent in the nation, causing confusion for attorneys and litigants.

Instead, VanDyke said he would issue rulings based on the law and precedent.

As solicitor general under Fox, he said he defended laws that he disagreed with and would rule in favor of laws he opposed if he felt they were constitutional.

VanDyke was in Havre for a meet-and-greet session with potential voters. He stopped by the Havre Daily News before the session.

VanDyke stressed that he believes the Legislature should pass laws and the court ought to apply the law to the cases before it.

Wheat, appointed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in 2008, has a generally liberal record on the court. For instance, the Montana Chamber of Commerce gave him a 42 percent rating — meaning he ruled the way the Chamber wanted about 42 percent of the time. That the lowest rating, by quite a bit, on the court.

Wheat is endorsed by several liberal interest groups in his re-election bid, while conservative organizations such as the Chamber and the National Rifle Association have backed VanDyke.

But VanDyke said the conservative groups should not count on him voting their way.

“I will not be a conservative activist like Mike Wheat is liberal activist,” he said.

“I don’t believe the constitution is a living document,” he said.

Believers in the living document say that “times change,” he said, and the interpretation of the constitution should change with it.

“If people want the constitution changed, they should go see the Legislature.”

Using the democratic process, not going to the courts, is the solution for these people, he said.

He defended the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allowed so-called “dark money” into Montana campaigns.

He said opponents of the decision are being “hypocritical.”

VanDyke said trial lawyers groups will pump hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Wheat and will then oppose groups that back him and oppose Wheat.

The court ruling prohibits coordination between “dark money groups” and the candidate’s campaign. But VanDyke said he understands might support his candidacy.

VanDyke, a native of Montana, went to Harvard Law School and worked in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Dallas before returning to Montana.

He said has has not been active in politics except in support of Fox. He had a chance meeting with Fox while he was on vacation, he said, and they became friends.


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