State moves to dismiss challenge to bill restricting campus organizing

AG: State was not properly served because of complaint’s poor legibility

By: - November 8, 2021 4:34 pm

The Joseph P. Mazurek Justice Building in Helena which houses the Attorney General’s Office, the Montana Supreme Court and the state law library (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

The state of Montana is moving to dismiss a federal court challenge to a law passed this year limiting on-campus political organizing in part due to a printing error in the original complaint, according to legal filings last week.

The office of Attorney General Austin Knudsen, which represents the Montana Secretary of State and Commissioner of Political Practices in the case, argued in a brief filed November 3 that the plaintiffs violated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by not properly serving the state.

As to why, Knudsen’s office says that “significant portions of these complaint copies were totally unreadable due to poor printing quality,” backing up the claim with a copy of the complaint that is largely illegible due to what appears to be a printer running low on ink.

“Of course, Rule 4(c)’s requirement that plaintiffs serve a summons and copy of the complaint inherently requires that the complaint be legible and complete,” the brief reads.

Knudsen’s office also offered affidavits from state officials certifying that the defective copy of the complaint was the one they initially received. PACER, the federal court records database, displays a legible version.


The case in question is one of several challenges filed against SB319, a bill passed in the waning hours of the 2021 legislative session after receiving last-minute amendments to create new provisions banning political groups from organizing “inside a residence hall, dining facility, or athletic facility operated by a public postsecondary institution”

This suit came from the Montana Democratic Party and the campaign committee of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, who argued that the law violates the First Amendment by banning protected political speech and infringing on the ability of campaign organizers to engage in their work on campuses.

“The Student Organizing Ban is a surgical attack on the successful organizing efforts and increased political power of Montana’s youngest voters,” the initial complaint reads. “By targeting only university residence halls, dining facilities, and athletic facilities, the Legislature made clear its intent: preventing young, newly enfranchised Montanans from participating fully in the political process.”

The AG’s office further claims in its brief, citing the muddled copy of the complaint, that the plaintiffs didn’t make true claims for relief.

“This copy includes only 16 pages of the complaint and — from what is legible — contains no claims for relief at all,” the filing reads. “The State cannot be forced into court if the plaintiffs don’t explain why and how those grievances can be redressed.”

In the complaint on file with the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, the plaintiffs ask the court to enjoin implementation of the law, which carries with it a $1,000-per-violation civil penalty.


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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.