The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with a state district court’s decision to not block a state law prohibiting vaccine mandates in most workplaces.
In a five-justice panel’s majority opinion written by Chief Justice Mike McGrath, however, the high court remanded part of the lower court’s order. The district court must reconsider whether House Bill 702 violated the constitutional requirement that bill titles reflect the subject covered by the legislation.
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of vaccination status. It subjects businesses, government agencies and other workplaces to human rights complaints if they deny anyone employment or access to goods or services based on whether they’re vaccinated.
The law contains some exceptions for schools and long-term care facilities. Another case challenging the law in federal court has also yielded an injunction temporarily blocking the state from enforcing it against most health care providers.
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The Supreme Court otherwise upheld Richland County District Court Judge Olivia Rieger’s February order. In it, she denied Sidney-based Netzer Law Firm’s request that the law be blocked while the constitutional merits are decided, writing that it did not pose an immediate threat to the plaintiff’s right to a “clean and healthful environment” under the Montana Constitution.
The court agreed with Rieger’s finding that the law “does not thwart employers from taking other significant and effective measures to maintain a clean and healthful environment in their office.”
The order was signed by justices Laurie McKinnon, Ingrid Gustafson, Beth Baker and Jim Rice.
“We conclude the court’s rationale was not unreasonable, arbitrary or that it resulted in a substantial injustice,” McGrath wrote, “and, therefore, the court did not manifestly abuse its discretion in denying injunctive relief prior to resolution of the final merits.”
The other case, in federal court, went to trial last month in Missoula. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy has yet to issue an order in the case.