Montana Board Of Regents Considers Lawsuit Over Campus Carry

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

No one expects gun control to be popular in Montana, but it’s popular with at least one group of people. The Montana Board of Regents isn’t a fan of guns or gun rights.

Because of that, they’re unhappy with a pro-gun measure in the state.

They’re unhappy enough to go to court over it.

The Montana Board of Regents will meet Wednesday to take up a resolution to direct the Commissioner of Higher Education to file a lawsuit over House Bill 102, which allows guns on campus and seeks to limit the Board’s authority to oversee the Montana University System.

The resolution under consideration would direct “the Commissioner of Higher Education to request, on behalf of the Board, judicial review of House Bill 102 to determine whether the law improperly encroaches upon the constitutional role and autonomy of the Board. While the Board respects the role of the legislature, judicial review is appropriate to ensure that the constitutional roles of each entity are being properly exercised.”

Anthony Johnstone, professor at the University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law, said in layman’s terms, the resolution means the board is deciding whether to file a lawsuit.

“Judicial review is just a polite way of saying challenging the law in court,” Johnstone said.

There’s really nothing surprising about this. Universities aren’t exactly known for valuing civil liberties in this day and age. Instead, they’re totalitarian hellholes in a lot of ways, where people can be hauled in before star chamber-like proceedings and have their lives destroyed by allegations that would never result in charges in the real world or where free speech is forbidden.

The idea that they wouldn’t support gun rights is hardly surprising.

Yet, they may have a legal leg to stand on.

The resolution points to Article X Section 9 of the Montana Constitution, which states the “government and control of the Montana university system is vested in a board of regents of higher education which shall have full power, responsibility, and authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the Montana university system and shall supervise and coordinate other public educational institutions assigned by law.”

A legal review conducted by legislative lawyers during the Montana Legislature had pointed out the same potential Constitutional conflict.

Now, it seems reasonable to argue that this shouldn’t apply to the ability to exercise basic civil liberties, like one’s Second Amendment rights, but the state’s constitution doesn’t provide such an exception.

That leaves at two options, at least.

The first is to let the Montana Board of Regents win and then challenge their rules in federal court. Taking such rules to the Supreme Court would make it clear that government entities like university systems can’t unduly restrict students’ rights like that. However, that’s risky because it may not yield the results you want. Yes, there’s a pro-gun majority on the bench right now, but who knows what will happen by the time such a case would make it before the justices.

The other is to amend the Montana Constitution. That might be a bit easier, especially if such an amendment is carefully worded to focus on civil liberties rather than just gun rights. Free speech advocates and due process advocates have taken issue with universities in recent years over their actions–I know, I’ve been both–so they would create an interesting alliance.

Plus, it would be amusing to see the Montana Board of Regents argue against protecting civil liberties without sounding like tyrants. I don’t think they’d be successful in pulling it off, either.

Regardless, this should make for a very interesting case moving forward.