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Lawsuit challenges Montana law on gender and racial balance for boards, committees

Helena Federal Courthouse
Posted at 7:12 PM, Mar 15, 2024

HELENA — A lawsuit filed in federal court this week is challenging a Montana law that encourages “gender and racial balance” on state boards and commissions.

The suit specifically focuses on the Montana Board of Medical Examiners, which licenses and regulates doctors and other health care professionals. The plaintiff is Do No Harm, a national organization that opposes what it calls “divisive identity politics in healthcare.” Their attorneys are from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which has filed a number of similar cases around the country to challenge gender and racial mandates.

Since the early 1990s, a state law has said those tasked with appointing people to state boards and commissions “shall take positive action to attain gender balance and proportional representation of minorities resident in Montana to the greatest extent possible.”

The complaint says the Board of Medical Examiners currently has six female members and four male members, and that only one is a member of a minority group. Do No Harm argues that the law means one of their members – a white woman who works as a dermatologist in Flathead County – would otherwise be qualified for the board, but couldn’t be appointed.

“Such blatant discrimination against individuals who could sit on the Board serves no legitimate government purpose,” the complaint says. “It is demeaning, patronizing, un-American, and unconstitutional.”

While the suit specifically talks about the Board of Medical Examiners, the plaintiff’s complaint asks the court to block enforcement of the gender and racial balance law altogether.

The lawsuit names Gov. Greg Gianforte as a defendant, as the governor appoints the members of the medical board – who must later be confirmed by the Montana Senate. MTN reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the suit.

“When making board appointments, the governor’s sole focus is to select highly-qualified individuals to serve Montanans,” a spokesperson responded.

Earlier this year, in an Iowa case filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a federal judge threw out that state’s law requiring an equal number of women and men to serve on a commission.