James C. Nelson

James C. Nelson

James C. Nelson is a retired lawyer and former Montana Supreme Court Justice. He lives in Helena.


Two rights and a multitude of wrongs

By: - February 20, 2022

Montana’s Constitution contains two fundamental rights that are distinct, yet, are connected in an important way. The first of these rights is Article II, section 7 titled “Freedom of speech, expression and press.” This provision states, in pertinent part: “No law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech or expression. Every person shall be […]


Clean water? It’s too demanding and expensive

By: - February 16, 2022

There’s the old saw about obscenity: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Thanks to Senate Bill 358, enacted by the 2021 Legislature and signed into law by the Gov. Greg Gianforte, that’s close to the standard that the Department of Environmental Quality is now required to use for measuring […]


Illegitimate political discourse

By: - February 12, 2022

In censuring Reps. Liz Chaney and Adam Kinzinger for their audacity in serving on the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, the Republican National Committee declared that the Select Committee was “persecut[ing] ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Just so we are all on the same page about the event being […]


There’s no more activist court than the United States Supreme Court

By: - February 2, 2022

In legal briefing and in public statements, involving litigation surrounding “Armstrong v. State”–holding that women have an individual privacy right to obtain a pre-viability abortion free from government interference under Montana’s Constitution–Montana’s Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, has accused the Montana Supreme Court of judicial activism and legislating from the bench. Ironically, Knudsen levels his claims […]


There’s no right to ban or burn books

By: - January 31, 2022

It looks like the self-appointed morality police are at it again.  Two articles in the Daily Montanan discuss the book banning wars in Kalispell and in Billings. The books at issue are about LGBTQ+ children, and, by some, are considered to be, in part, child pornography.  If, in fact, that were true federal authorities would […]


Chipping away at our state’s constitution

By: - January 25, 2022

During the last legislative session, while I was doing some legal research, I accidentally came across House Bill 651. This bill (which is now law) overhauled and imposed significant burdens on the Citizens Initiative process—guaranteed to Montanans by our Constitution, primarily at Article III, sections 4,6 and 9, but also at Article II, section 14, […]


What was Knudsen’s office trying to hide in the Smith restaurant assault case?

By: - December 18, 2021

Even after sentencing, the Rodney Robert Smith case doesn’t pass the smell test. There isn’t room to repeat the details of the case here. Holly K. Michels for the Independent Record and KXLH’s Mike Dennison have done a thorough job of reporting the facts surrounding the case and Smith’s sentencing hearing on Dec. 9, before […]


Women: Collateral damage in the abortion war

By: - December 8, 2021

On Dec. 1, The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. We likely won’t know the result of the court’s decision until sometime early next summer. But from the Justices questions and comments during the argument, it appears that the court will, basically, gut Roe […]


There’s precedent for that

By: - November 8, 2021

Lawyers know about precedent–defined as, something that precedes or comes before. For example, a court decision that serves as authority for deciding subsequent cases involving similar facts or legal issues, or other precedents which serve as guides for administrative conduct and decisions. Precedents provide consistency; they are the rules of the rule of law. That […]


The ball is in your court, Mr. Knudsen

By: - November 6, 2021

Jim Edwards’ commentary in The Daily Montanan on Nov. 2, raises some important questions about the incident involving St. Peter’s hospital health care providers being allegedly threatened by three public officials for their refusal to provide horse wormer as a Covid treatment to an 80-year-old Covid patient—who just happened to be on the “A list” […]


Democracy in three different Montana newspapers

By: - October 12, 2021

First, where I’m coming from: Donald Trump labeled the press “the enemy of the people.”  That was to be expected because authoritarians always demonize and take control of or outright destroy the press. Indeed, the right to publish is typically the first casualty of a fascist regime; the first victim when democracy dies. Those of […]


For Montanans, privacy is power

By: - September 8, 2021

Texas’ new anti-abortion law is one of the most restrictive in the developed world. But no surprise that the brouhaha over women’s right to abortion services has nothing to do with honoring their personal autonomy and little to do with fetal mortality. Rather, the fight is grounded in partisan politics. Historian Heather Cox Richardson provides […]