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HELENA - Seven Republican legislators have asked a district judge to allow them to help the state keep on the June primary ballot a voter referendum to change how Montana Supreme Court justices are elected.

The lawmakers, through their attorney, filed a motion Monday to intervene in the case in District Court, before Judge James Reynolds.

At issue is Legislative Referendum 119, placed on the ballot by the 2011 Legislature. If approved by voters, it would require the seven Supreme Court justices to be elected from seven separate districts. The justices now are elected statewide.

A group of voters, including some delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, filed a lawsuit in November to strike the measure from the ballot. They contended LR-119 is an illegal attempt to amend the Montana Constitution and thus should be removed from the ballot.

The seven legislators seeking to intervene to keep LR-119 on the June 5 ballot each represent people from one of the proposed Supreme Court districts under the referendum.

"The (legislators') voting rights are directly impacted by the disposition of this case," wrote their attorney, state Sen. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman. "As residents and voters of the proposed seven districts, the intervenors have a substantial interest in the subject matter of this action and should be allowed to intervene."

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The legislators petitioning are: Sens. Joe Balyeat of Bozeman, sponsor of the bill; Edward Walker, of Billings; and Greg Hinkle, of Thompson Falls; and Reps. Mark Blasdel, of Somers, Ryan Osmundson, of Buffalo; Matthew Rosendale, of Glendive and Kelly Flynn, of Townsend.

"We have joined to defend against this lawsuit because there is no more important right in a democracy than the right to vote," Wittich said in a news release.

Wittich said the lawsuit seeks to strip Montanans of their choice on a referendum that's already on the ballot.

"We oppose that kind of legal maneuvering," he said.

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