DOJ: News Release

Bullock Opposes Ruling That Could Gut Montana’s Open Meeting Law

HELENA – Attorney General Steve Bullock said Thursday that a recent court ruling that would make it easier for government officials to challenge open meeting laws should be revisited and overturned.

A three judge panel in New Orleans found that Texas’ open meeting laws violate the First Amendment free-speech rights of City Council members in Alpine, TX. The ruling could pave the way for excluding the public from governmental meetings. It would create a legal standard for review of open meeting laws that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for states to defend against attacks on their statutes.

Bullock and the attorneys general of 16 other states are asking the entire Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to re-examine and overturn that ruling.

“Government works best when public officials are held accountable by those they’re elected to serve. We need more openness and transparency, not secret meetings behind closed doors,” Bullock said. “In Montana, we still call our elected officials by their first names. And because of our Constitution we expect the process to be fair and open. This ruling could undermine that.”

In a friend of the court brief filed this week, the attorneys general contend that the right of the public to attend meetings furthers transparency and accountability in government.

“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy,” the attorneys general write.

Bullock and Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell were joined by the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia in filing the brief.

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