The Big Sky State currently has over 2,000 practicing attorneys. Montana lawyers practice in the state’s Supreme Court, District Court, Water Court, and various municipal courts. Montana is unique in that it does not have a mid-level appellate court. All cases appealed from Montana’s District Court—the State’s primary trial court—go directly to the Supreme Court.
In 2003, there were approximately 16,000 cases filed in District Court. Of these, only 300 were reviewed by the Supreme Court. In 2006, over 500 cases were reviewed by the Supreme Court. As these numbers rise, Montana may have to follow Mississippi’s lead—the most recent state to create a Court of Appeals—and create a mid-level court to hear appeals from the District Court.
Montana was among the first states to grant women’s suffrage in the early 1800’s. Montana is also known for having a very low driving age. Teens as young as 15 and a half can earn a limited drivers license which allows them to drive unsupervised by an adult within certain restrictions. Efforts to raise the driving age have met with stiff public resistance, however. Montana’s wide, open expanses and numerous farms make using a vehicle a necessity for many teens and their families.
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Montana has a large number of Indian reservations. Numerous important legal precedents regarding Indian reservations have therefore originated in Montana. In Strate v. A-1 Contractors, the Supreme Court ruled that Indian tribes had no jurisdiction over non-tribal members involved in accidents on state highways that passed through reservations. Absent some other treaty or agreement, negligent non-members of the tribe who were involved in an accident on a state highway were therefore under the jurisdiction of traditional state courts, not tribal courts.
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