HELENA – President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated a state Supreme Court justice and a Billings district judge to fill two open Montana judgeships, and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus pledged to quickly shepherd their confirmations through his chamber.
Obama followed Baucus’ recommendations in nominating Montana Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris and Judge Susan Watters to fill the vacancies at the U.S. District Court of Montana.
Morris has been a Supreme Court justice since 2005. Watters has been a judge in Montana’s 13th Judicial District since 1998.
Watters was picked to fill former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull’s Billings seat. Cebull retired May 3 amid a misconduct investigation into an email he forwarded that included a joke about bestiality and Obama’s mother.
Morris is nominated to fill the seat of U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon of Great Falls, who took senior status in December.
They must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before taking the lifetime appointments.
“I’m going to work hard to move these nominees through the confirmation process quickly because it’s imperative that we have these justices in place to handle the workload facing the District of Montana,” Baucus said in a statement Thursday. “Judge Watters and Justice Morris are exceptionally qualified and highly respected individuals who I have no doubt will serve the people of Montana well, while upholding the ideals of justice and fairness.”
A judge can take senior status when he or she is 65 or older and has at least 15 years on the bench. A judge with senior status takes a reduced caseload but still draws a salary and can keep a staff of four.
Montana has three other senior federal judges besides Haddon: Donald Molloy in Helena, Jack Shanstrom in Billings and Charles Lovell in Helena.
Montana’s only other active judge is Obama appointee Dana Christensen.
Morris is serving an eight-year term that goes until 2020, while Watters’ term goes until 2016.
If Watters and Morris are confirmed, Gov. Steve Bullock will appoint replacements to fill out their elected terms based on recommendations by the Judicial Nominations Commission.
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