Recently declared Montana Supreme Court candidate John Morrison is terminating his campaign in its early stages, he announced Tuesday.
Morrison, a former state auditor, said he is throwing his support behind former federal magistrate court judge Jerry Lynch in the 2024 race for chief justice of the state’s highest court.
Both Morrison and Lynch have positioned themselves as institutionalists who will defend the court’s independence at a time of heightened political conflict and scrutiny from conservative lawmakers and state officials who have cast doubt on its rulings and made accusations of judicial bias.
“I got into this race to fight those who want to tear the Constitution and the courts away from the people,” Morrison said in a statement. “Campaigns like this represent a huge sacrifice for candidates and their families. [Morrison’s wife] Cathy and I were willing to make that sacrifice because we believed that I was the best candidate to lead that fight. I now am confident that Judge Lynch has the momentum and profile to defend our Constitution and courts and win this election. I do not want to waste resources or create divisions that could undermine our shared commitment to uphold constitutional freedoms, court access, and the rule of law in this critical time.”
Neither Chief Justice Mike McGrath nor Justice Dirk Sandefur will seek re-election to Montana Supreme Court in 2024
Neither Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath nor Justice Dirk Sandefur will run for re-election in 2024, they independently told Montana Free Press. That means both of next year’s races for the state Supreme Court will be open contests at a time of heightened political visibility for the judiciary and unprecedented price tags for judicial races.
Morrison, a long-time Helena attorney and former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, launched his campaign last month.
“I’m running because our courts have been under attack in recent years,” Morrison told Montana Free Press then. “I want to make sure that they remain open and fair and impartial and independent for all Montanans.”
Only Lynch and Morrison had so far filed to run for the seat. Incumbent Chief Justice Mike McGrath is retiring at the end of his term.
Both Lynch or Morrison were opposed by the state’s conservative political and legal establishment, which in 2022 supported Public Service Commission President James Brown in an ultimately failed Supreme Court campaign that pledged to bring “balance” to the court and painted incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson as a liberal activist. Conservative operatives had already released mailers attacking both Morrison and Lynch.
Judicial elections are nonpartisan. Candidates are winnowed through an open, top-two primary election scheduled for June 2024. Morrison’s withdrawal from the race in favor of Lynch theoretically allows voters and interest groups who might support either candidate to marshal their resources for another expensive judicial election in 2024. No other candidate has yet entered the race.
“Protecting the integrity, independence and impartiality of Montana’s judicial branch and the Montana Supreme Court is my top priority,” Lynch said in response to Morrison’s withdrawal Tuesday. “I welcome the support of John Morrison and that of all Montanans who care about the future of our great state.”
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