The Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s Daniel Person was given rare access to Montana’s most infamous federal judge, US District Judge Donald Molloy (L-Missoula.)
In a lengthy profile piece of Molloy, Person looks at his family background and the lifetime experiences which have come to shape Molloy’s ideology.
Person notes Molloys reputation as one of “the greenest judges in the West” and several of his recent controversial opinions.
That’s been particularly true the past 12 months. In that time, Molloy has ruled that Yellowstone grizzlies are still threatened, that the red slurry dropped on wildfires might be illegal and that the Gallatin Crest should be managed more like wilderness.
Then, in August, he passed down a ruling that stands out even in his notorious career as a judge: his finding that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act when it used the Wyoming state line to determine which wolves are endangered and which aren’t. And while the ruling dealt only with the language of the act, it sparked a raucous backlash that had one group calling Molloy “today’s biggest threat to wildlife.”
One of my favorite lines in the piece came from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, who suggested that Molloy is somehow a fair and impartial judge because, as he told Person:
“I think we lose before him more often than we win,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance of Wild Rockies, which has filed scores of lawsuits challenging National Forest logging and grazing projects. “Overall, we win more than we lose, but most of those wins are before the Ninth Circuit.” he says, “Overall, we win more than we lose.”
That’s as if saying: “hey, out of 100 frivolous lawsuits, we only won 40 of them.” As if we should be happy that 40 frivolous lawsuits still get the judge’s endorsement.
The biographical content is interesting. Those in the Molloy family I have met seem like great people, and I have heard good things about others who I have not met. That being said, he is very clearly regarded as a partisan ideologue on the bench. Attempts to show that Judge Molloy doesn’t always side with environmental groups were made, especially in one scenario where the WR Grace Asbestos case was cited. Oddly enough, most folks I talked to on that case thought Molloy’s ruling had more to do with Molloy wanting to make the Republican appointed US Attorney Bill Mercer look bad. But, in the end, it is the Judge himself who seems to be getting the blame. Just go talk to folks in Libby. He’s not just the judge who threw out the WR Grace case. He’s also the same judge who blocks their logging projects, blocks their mining projects, and hurts the Forest Service’s ability to fight wildfires. All the while Libby is so poor economically that every child under 18 is eligible for free lunch and breakfast at the school during the summer.
He also seems pretty proud of his military service, even as he mentions that he seemed to join simply so he could avoid the draft. (I’m sure some loggers out there wish he would have instead just simply fled to Canada.)
He moved to Missoula during a tumultuous chapter in UM history. Students were protesting the Vietnam War and challenging convention.
“I remember having a pretty traditional view of the world…having the American view of things, then coming over here and being exposed to things I’d never heard or read,” he recalled in an interview with the Missoulian last year.
As graduation approached at UM, he was “sweating the draft” and struck up a conversation with some Navy recruiters who were on campus.
Overall, though, it is very interesting that Judge Molloy decided to do the interview, I wonder if he is starting to get defensive. (For disclosure to those of you out there, I had a case before Molloy’s court a few years back, but you can rest assured that my criticisms of Judge Molloy and the 9th Circuit were held years before that case. Click here to read a column George Will wrote about that topic.)
With regard to the current state of politics and civil discourse, Molloy had this to say:
“I think the hostility, if you go to Washington, you can almost feel it in the air,” he continued. “If you read the national news, listen to the news on NPR, I just wonder where the common ground is, the common good.
“How are we going to continue to survive as a nation?”
I guess we could start by having a federal judge in Missoula who starts showing a little balance of his own. As it stands now, Montanans are held hostage by the “Iron Curtain” of Judge Molloy and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.