Morris Takes Oath as Newest Montana Federal Judge

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Brian Morris looked over the Montana Supreme Court chambers and told the crowd gathered Wednesday that it was a “bittersweet” location to hold his swearing-in ceremony as the state’s newest federal judge.

Morris, 50, had been a Supreme Court justice for the last eight years, and before that, he was solicitor for the Montana Department of Justice. He said he wanted to hold the ceremony in the chambers so he could say goodbye to his colleagues and friends in the state court system.

“It’s a bittersweet time for me,” Morris told the packed crowd of lawyers, judges and politicians. “I see 13 years here.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Dana Christiansen swore in Morris using a Bible belonging to U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy that has been signed by every federal judge since 2001.

Morris will replace U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon of Great Falls, who took senior status at the end of 2012.

The addition of Morris and state District Judge Susan Watters of Billings on Thursday will once more give Montana a full complement of active federal judges after the retirement of U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull earlier this year and Haddon’s semi-retirement.

Morris, 50, is a Butte native who grew up on the same block as U.S Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch, who was in attendance Wednesday. He has been a Supreme Court justice since 2005 and he was re-elected in 2012 to an eight-year term.

Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath said Morris has had a remarkable influence on the state’s judicial system in a very short time.

Morris worked in a private law practice in Bozeman from 1995 to 2000, and his resume includes stints abroad. From 2000 to 2001, he was a senior legal officer for the United Nations Compensation Commission in Switzerland, and from 1994 to 1995 he was a legal assistant with the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague.

Morris earned his law degree in 1992 from Stanford University and was a clerk for former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Gov. Steve Bullock will select his replacement on the state court from nominees selected by the Judicial Nomination commission. The new judge will have to be confirmed by the Montana Senate in 2015, and the seat will be up for election in 2016.