HELENA – Associate Justice Jim Rice said Monday he will seek re-election to the Montana Supreme Court in 2014, adding that he provides an important voice as a former state legislator.
Rice, 56, a former Republican legislator from Helena, has served on the court since March 2001. He is second in seniority to Justice Patricia Cotter on the seven-member court. She took office in January 2001
“I think I bring an important voice, partly, I think, because of my legislative background,” Rice said in an interview. “I have sensitivity to the separation of powers and deference to the appropriate branches of government. I want to ensure that the court doesn’t legislate from the bench and stays within our appropriate role.”
Rice said he’s proud that the justices “have brought the court to a place of balance on separation of powers issues.”
“It’s rare anymore that you hear criticism of the Montana Supreme Court for overstepping its bounds or being an activist court,” Rice said. “I helped moderate it.”
The court plays an important role at a time when “we are living in an era or entering an era about the expansion of government at all levels,” he said. “Courts have to be more sensitive to government expansion infringing on individual liberties.”
Rice was a partner in the Helena law firm of Jackson and Rice from 1982 to 2000. He handled public defense work under contract his first four years.
In 2000, he lost a general election race for attorney general to Democrat Mike McGrath, now chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court.
In 2001, Gov. Judy Martz appointed Rice to the court, and the Senate confirmed him unanimously.
Rice won the remainder of the term in 2002 and was elected to a full eight-year term in 2006, both without opposition. When justices run without an opponent, Montanans must cast a yes-no vote on whether to retain or reject them.
Rice said he will be forming a campaign committee to raise money.
“Even when you run against Dr. No, you need to have some signs up,” he said.
Rice, the son of military parents, was born at an Air Force base in Ontario in 1957. His father was transferred to a radar base in Opheim in 1970.
He graduated from Glasgow High School and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Montana State University and a juris doctor degree from the University Of Montana law school.
Rice was elected to the Montana House in 1988, 1990 and 1992, and chosen as House majority whip in the 1993 session.
Gov. Marc Racicot appointed Rice in 1995 to chair the state Board of Personnel Appeals, which resolves disputes over collective bargaining and job position classifications. Rice held that post presiding over the part-time citizen board until he ran for attorney general in 2000.
He and his wife, Norine, have three daughters.