HELENA – Lawrence VanDyke, state solicitor general for Attorney General Tim Fox, said he is running to be a justice on the Montana Supreme Court because he believes he has a different legal background than the other justices.
VanDyke said he has focused on appellate law throughout his legal career and added, “I think that background would add to the background of the court.”
He filed for Supreme Court justice Monday and will oppose Justice Mike Wheat, who has served on the court since 2010.
VanDyke declined to say why he was running against Wheat, saying he would prefer to discuss his own judicial philosophy.
He said he will be careful not to bring an agenda, whether partisan or not, to the court.
“It’s important to come up (to the court) with the idea that you will rule on what the law is, not what you want it to be,” VanDyke said.
He added, “The most important thing for judges to do is come into cases with an open mind, and, however they rule, follow the law.”
The court candidate said he will continue working as state solicitor general through summer and then take a leave of absence to spend time on his campaign.
VanDyke, 41, was born in Texas when his father worked for Texaco, but his family moved back to Bozeman the next year.
He graduated from high school in Manitoba before receiving a bachelor’s degree, with high honors, in civil engineering and later a master’s degree in construction engineering management, both from Montana State University. He worked for his family’s heavy construction company for five years while getting his master’s degree.
VanDyke later received a juris doctor degree, with honors, from Harvard Law School. After clerking a year a federal appellate judge in Washington, he joined a national law firm, Gibson Dunn, working in Washington, D.C., and Dallas.
He worked as deputy solicitor general for the Texas attorney general before moving back to Montana to join Fox’s staff.
VanDyke lives in the Montana City area with his wife and their three children.
“I have a diversity of experience in the state and out of the state,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of cases before the (U.S.) Supreme Court.”
He said he was part of a team at Gibson Dunn that prepared Supreme Court briefs, although he’s never personally argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
VanDyke said he has a long record of defending civil rights for people across the ideological spectrum, from gay advocacy groups to conservative religious liberty groups. He represented the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas.
Much of his civil rights work was done for Gibson Dunn on a pro bono, or free, basis for clients, he said.
In Montana, as solicitor general, VanDyke asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a case to overturn a lower court’s ruling against state laws designed to halt federal regulation of locally manufactured firearms. Unfortunately, he said, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case.
At issue was the legality of the state’s 2009 Firearms Freedom Act. It declared that federal gun regulations don’t apply to those firearms that kept in the state where they were manufactured.