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The Last Best Law

By James C. Nelson

Montana’s 1972 Constitution uniquely provides the state’s citizens with the right to be left alone, says retired State Supreme Court Justice James C. Nelson.

The framers considered the right of individual privacy to be “essential to the well-being of a free society;” a right “not to be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.”

This right, written into the Montana Constitution as Article II, Section 10, provides Montanans with more protection of individual privacy than does the federal constitution. This right secures against government infringement, the privacy of our personal information, documents and data, our intimate relationships, and our autonomy and personal choices. It is our right to be “let alone” — a guarantee sufficiently narrow to guard against specific instances of abuse, yet sufficiently broad to encompass the ever-evolving manner in which government thrusts itself into our private lives.

There is a holy trinity of constitutional rights, which give meaning to our subsistence as individual human beings living in a highly organized and complex society. These are natural rights that we are all born with. These are the inviolable rights to human dignity; the right to the equal protection of the law and the right of individual privacy.

Dignity defines our individuality as human beings; privacy demands that we be let alone to live our individual lives; and, standing between each of us and excess governmental interference with those rights is the guarantee that each of us will be treated equally under the law.