U.S. Senate Confirms Two Federal Judges for Montana

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS — The U.S. Senate confirmed two nominees for federal judgeships in Montana, including the first woman in the state to hold such a post.

The Senate voted late Thursday to confirm Montana Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris as a U.S. District Court judge for Great Falls, while state District Court Judge Susan Watters was confirmed as a federal judge in Billings, The Billings Gazette reported.

Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester praised the integrity, leadership and judgment of Watters and Morris. Baucus noted the confirmations will help address a shortage of federal judges in Montana.

Watters, 55, worked in private practice and as a prosecutor in the Yellowstone County attorney’s office until being appointed a state district judge in Billings 15 years ago. She is the first woman in Montana to be appointed a federal judge.

“I know it’s very significant,” Watters said of the distinction. “It’s time and I’m very excited and humbled to be that person.”

Watters said she has a lot of patience, is a good listener and has a good work ethic.

“I believe in giving each side an opportunity to be heard,” she said. “I think it is very important to have strong analytical skills and I think I do.”

She will replace retired U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy is expected to swear in Watters in Billings on Dec. 19, when she will also resign as a state judge.

Morris has been a state Supreme Court justice since 2005 and will replace U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon, who semi-retired at the end of 2012. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula is expected to swear in Morris at the Montana Supreme Court Chambers in Helena on Dec. 18, when he will resign from the high court.

Morris, 50, said he enjoyed his time on the state Supreme Court but noted the pace on an appellate court is a bit slow.

“This gives me a great chance to continue serving the people of Montana in a different role, as a trial judge,” Morris said.

Morris said he brings his experience as a trial attorney, judge and lawyer who worked on international law to his new role.

“I think I bring a common-sense perspective on how to interpret the law,” Morris said. “The way it’s going to be in my court is, everyone gets a fair shake. The law is applied evenly.”

Watters and Morris both had hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 24. The committee approved the candidates in September. The Senate approved Watters with a 77-19 vote and Morris with a 75-20 count.

The lifetime appointments pay an annual salary of $174,000.

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