If Montana gets a second member of Congress following the latest US Census, a panel of five Montanans would determine where the lines are drawn. Would we have an eastern seat and a western seat? Or, would we have a northern seat, and a southern seat? Would the lines be fairly drawn, or would one political party gerrymander the boundaries just to favor their own political party?

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

The answers to those questions depends on who sits on a very important commission known as the "Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission."

Here's how it works. The Republicans get two people, and the Democrats get two people. If the four commissioners can't agree on a fifth member, then the tie goes to the Montana Supreme Court.

The Montana Supreme Court is, of course, dominated by a Democrat majority. Naturally, conservatives had feared that they would appoint a hard-core Democrat partisan to fill the role as chair. Surprisingly, they actually made a good pick with Sheila Stearns. But now Stearns has stepped down from the commission, and the Montana Supreme Court has already quietly named a replacement.

This all begs the question, is the liberal majority on the Montana Supreme Court now looking to pack the commission without any public input in the process?

Here's a letter I obtained through the clerk's office Wednesday morning:

Later Wednesday, Tom Lutey reported that the Montana Supreme Court chose CSKT tribal attorney Maylinn Smith as the new chair:

Smith is an associate professor at the University of Montana Law School, and the civil prosecutor for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. She replaces Sheila Stearns, who resigned from the committee because of health issues.

 

According to the Montana Legislature's website:

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission is an independent five-member commission authorized by the Montana Constitution to draw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts every 10 years using population data from the most recent U.S. Census.

Commissioners may not be public officials. Four commissioners are appointed by legislative leadership and have 20 days after appointment to select the fifth member, who will be the commission's presiding officer. Should the first four commissioners fail to agree on a fifth, the Montana Supreme Court selects the fifth member.

GIVE: Operation Warm Drop Off Locations