NewsMontana News


Congress confirms University of Montana law professor to 9th Circuit judgeship

Constitutional scholar Anthony Johnstone will maintain chambers in Missoula, where he’ll rule on appeals that come before a nine-state region of the west.
Anthony Johnstone
Posted at 7:59 AM, May 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-03 10:25:07-04

A University of Montana law professor will serve on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate Monday.

The Montana Free Press reports Anthony Johnstone, who clerked for 9th Circuit Court Judge Sidney Thomas early in his career and has spent more than a decade teaching at the University of Montana’s Blewett School of Law, is a renowned constitutional scholar.

Prior to teaching at UM, Johnstone worked for the Montana Department of Justice as an assistant attorney general and state solicitor. He received an undergraduate degree from Yale University and graduated from the University of Chicago Law School with honors in 1999. Last year, Carolina Academic Press published “The Montana Constitution in the State Constitutional Tradition,” a book about the Montana Constitution, which was drafted by Montana citizens and adopted by voters 50 years ago.

Dozens of individuals and organizations expressed support for Johnstone’s nomination when the White House first announced it last September. In an Oct. 1 letter, six retired Montana Supreme Court justices praised his educational background, legal expertise and litigation experience.

“Professor Johnstone possesses one of the best legal minds and is the finest and most respected legal scholar in the state of Montana,” the letter reads. It goes on to praise Johnstone’s “commitment to the Montana and Federal Constitutions and to the ideals of equal protection, due process and the rule of law.”

Other Johnstone boosters include former classmates and students, former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and leaders from Native American communities that span the state.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, praised Johnstone’s confirmation, while his Republican colleague in Congress, Sen. Steve Daines, criticized President Joe Biden’s pick for a long-term — lifetime, typically — appointment to the 9th Circuit.

“Montanans expect their judges to apply the law without bias, in a common sense way — and that’s exactly what Anthony Johnstone has done throughout his entire legal career,” Tester said in a statement. “He has an outstanding record of service to the people of Montana, and I have no doubt that he will serve the American people well on the Ninth Circuit bench.”

Daines questioned Johnstone’s record on issues such as immigration and gun policy.

“The Ninth Circuit has substantial influence over Montana and our way of life,” Daines’ statement reads. “It is critical that Montana’s lone seat on this court is held by someone that better reflects Montana values, not someone who will be a rubber stamp for President Biden’s far-left agenda.”

Daines voted not to confirm Johnstone to the court. The confirmation ultimately prevailed on a 49-45 vote.

Johnstone is filling a vacancy on the federal bench that opened when Thomas accepted senior status. Johnstone will help decide judicial matters that come before the 9th Circuit, which oversees a nine-state region of the West. He’ll maintain chambers in Missoula. He did not return a request for comment by press time Tuesday.

The 9th Circuit received more than 8,200 filings last year. All 29 judgeships are currently filled.