The Standard State Bureau

HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court has upheld the rejection of a lawsuit claiming Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission improperly assigned a Democratic senator to a new central Montana district.

The court, without comment this week, affirmed a ruling by state District Judge Mike Menahan of Helena, who said the five-member panel did not violate open-meetings law when it made the Senate District 15 assignment a year ago.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath said the court will issue a full opinion later, but wanted to issue its decision before the end of candidate filing next Monday.

A ruling against the state might have created an open seat in SD15, where candidates could run this year. Now, Sen. Bradley Hamlett of Cascade will represent the district through 2015.

The Districting and Apportionment Commission, which drew new legislative districts that take effect for the first time this year, assigned Hamlett, a Democrat, to represent SD15.

Hamlett does not live in SD15, which includes all or part of seven central Montana counties and the towns of Lewistown, Harlowton and White Sulphur Springs.

A group of citizens in SD15 filed suit, saying the assignment was a political deal meant to allow Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, to run for re-election in another new Senate district. They said the commission had decided the issue without public notice and unfairly deprived SD15 residents of voting for a senator until 2016.

Menahan issued his ruling in December and the SD15 citizens appealed to the high court.

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