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Montana judge to take "senior status" on federal appeals court

Posted at 3:41 PM, Mar 30, 2022

HELENA — A Montana judge says, after more than 25 years on a federal appeals court, he’s ready for his successor to be chosen.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals announced Tuesday that Judge Sidney Thomas, of Billings, has announced plans to assume senior status, effective when his replacement takes office.

According to a statement from the court, Thomas told President Joe Biden in a letter that it had been “a great honor and a privilege to serve as an active judge” for 26 years.

A federal judge on senior status continues to hear some cases, essentially working on a volunteer basis. However, taking that status officially opens the judge’s position, meaning the president can select a successor.

Thomas’ decision means Biden will have three vacancies to fill on the 9th Circuit, the largest appeals court in the U.S.

Thomas was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1995 and confirmed by the Senate in 1996. He served as the court’s chief judge from 2014 to 2021.

The court’s statement highlighted Thomas’ work on expanding the use of technology and making the judicial process more accessible.

It said he has heard more than 11,000 appeals and written more than 400 precedential opinions.

Thomas was born in Bozeman. He has a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University and a law degree from the University of Montana.

Prior to joining the 9th Circuit, he was an attorney in private practice in Billings and an adjunct law instructor at Rocky Mountain College.

In 2010, media reports identified Thomas as a possible candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court, to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

President Barack Obama eventually selected Justice Elena Kagan for the position.