HELENA — U.S. Sen. Max Baucus told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that two nominees to the federal bench in Montana will serve the state well.
Baucus spoke in Washington during a hearing on the nominations of District Judge Susan Watters and Montana Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris. Both were nominated in May by President Barack Obama to fill two open Montana judgeships and must be confirmed by the full Senate.
Baucus said that he sought out the best potential candidates, regardless of political leanings, in recommending the pair to the president.
"I am certain that their experience, leadership and prudence will serve Montanans well," Baucus said.
Morris has been a Supreme Court justice since 2005 and is nominated to fill the seat of U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon, of Great Falls, who took senior status in December.
Morris was asked why the Montana Supreme Court in 2011 bucked the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United campaign finance case.
The Montana court in 2011 upheld a 100-year-old ballot initiative limiting corporate campaign spending - despite a strong dissent warning the decision obviously undermined a the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a federal ban as an unconstitutional regulation of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 overturned the state high court's decision.
Morris said the majority of state justices believed the Montana law would be ruled constitutional because the state had a history of corruption that provided a compelling reason for adopting it.
"We were wrong," Morris told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It would be my obligation as a federal judge to follow all precedents of the Supreme Court."
Watters was picked to fill the Billings seat of former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who retired amid a misconduct investigation into an email he forwarded that included a joke about bestiality and Obama's mother.
Watters has been a judge in Montana's 13th Judicial District since 1998 when she was appointed by former Gov. Marc Racicot.
She said she is committed to quickly making decisions based only on the issues before her and giving the decisions proper consideration. Watters said precedent guides decisions, responding to a question about when it is appropriate for judges to strike down laws.
"Statutes are presumed to be constitutional. It is only in rare circumstances that they are to be deemed not constitutional," Watters said.
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.