Should state supreme court justices have to serve as trial judges first? Montana considers just such a proposal.

The practice of requiring the judge of an appellate court first be admitted to the practice of law for a set period of time is not unheard of: at least 30 states have statutory or constitutional requirements that a person practice law or at least be admitted to the bar for a certain number of years before being eligible.

A bill currently being drafted would add an additional requirement: service as a trial judge.

Montana’s current constitution requires a justice of the supreme court be admitted to the practice of law in the state for at least 5 years. D. 1699 would amend the state’s constitution to also require those seeking to be justices have “served as a District Court judge” for an unspecified amount of time.


If adopted, the Montana provision would be the first in the nation to directly tie service as a trial judge to service on the state’s court of last resort.