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President's Message: It is foolish to think our institutions will survive if we don’t protect them


By Brian C. Smith

The Board of Trustees recently held its quarterly board meeting in Helena at the same time Montanans were celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the 1972 Constitutional Convention. The Convention had some amazing and dedicated people working for the citizens of Montana. The event was fantastic, and the stories of the delegates’ dedication to the State of Montana were heartening. Of the 100 delegates, only a handful remain. Most of the delegates have passed on, including two within the last couple of months, and the remaining few are eager to pass the torch to a younger generation. Who will celebrate and protect Montana’s unique constitution in the future was an ever present question at the celebration.

One of the panel discussions on the second day of the Constitutional Convention Celebration included three representatives for the co-equal branches of our State government. Supreme Court Justice Rice was the representative from the judicial branch. He has the unique perspective of also having been a legislator some years back. He talked about the recent challenges to the rule of law and issues Montana and our nation currently face. He had some very solid statements. One of the things he said has stuck with me more than the others. He said that he was sitting at home one night and he realized that he had assumed our institutions of government would endure no matter what. He said that the thought made him feel foolish. I would say that Justice Rice is no more foolish than the rest of us. The rest of us who also have been assuming the institutions, the rule of law, our way of life, and our government will just endure without our efforts and protections. It is time that we acknowledge the foolishness and work to protect our institutions. Our society is becoming more and more divisive, and the rule of law is simply under attack. Justice Rice is correct when he says this attack on our institutions has reached the shores of Montana.

A significant portion of the State Bar of Montana’s current strategic plan centers around this idea - that we need to do more to protect our institutions. The plan focuses on education and active efforts to protect the rule of law in the State of Montana. However, the plan is only as strong as the number of Bar members willing to move the efforts forward. How do we honor the 1972 delegates, protect the constitution and our institutions? We get involved. It could be as simple as judging high school mock trial. Better yet volunteer to coach a mock trial team. Get in the high schools. Get in the middle schools. Talk about the law and what it means. Volunteer for things like Law School for Legislature, Law Day, Street Law, We the People, or Citizens Law School. Write about it. Talk about it. Be active. We have a lot to lose and events in other countries around the world should give us pause…events in our own country should give us pause. But don’t be foolish. Don’t assume our institutions will endure these attacks. They won’t without our efforts, and without our efforts we will be left wishing we defended them from the beginning.

Brian C. Smith is a longtime criminal defense attorney from Missoula. He is currentluy the Public Defender Division Administrator at the Montana Office of the State Public Defender