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2024 Montana Primary elections
Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Q&A: Cory Swanson, Candidate for Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court

Cory Swanson

We are gathering information from all statewide candidates as a resource for the 2024 Primary Elections. Responses were limited to 200 words per question. Political attacks may have been removed, but otherwise, the responses are published unedited.

What is your full name as it will appear on ballots? 

Cory Swanson

What is your age? 

47 years old

Where do you live?

Townsend, MT

What is your education background? 

I started out at Montana State where I studied Farm & Ranch Management. I ended up transferring to Carroll College where I graduated in 2000. Then in 2004, I graduated from the UM Law School where I received my JD. I had the privilege of attending the U.S. Army War College due to my military service, and earned a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies in 2021.

Please list your current and previous occupations. 

I have had the privilege to serve as the Broadwater County Attorney for the last 10 years. I was first elected in 2014 and then re-elected again in 2018 and 2022.

Prior to serving the people of Broadwater, I was hired as the Deputy Attorney General under Tim Fox and served from January 2013 until my election as County Attorney. Before that, I worked in a Helena law firm for four years.

As if I wasn’t busy enough, I have had the honor of serving Montanans through the Montana Army National Guard since 1997. I have deployed 3 times, including as Commander of the 1-163 Combined Arms Battalion in 2022 to the Middle East.

What motivated you to seek a seat on the Montana Supreme Court? 

I have never had a personal ambition to serve on the Montana Supreme Court. But I saw a serious need for someone to step forward and fill the gap left by the retirement of Chief Justice (Mike) McGrath. We need someone to fill the Chief Justice position who believes that politics does not belong in the courtroom, and that is truly my motivation for this campaign.

Please describe your judicial philosophy. 

I believe judges should be as fair and impartial as possible in every instance, applying the law to the facts of a particular case without regard to the personalities of the litigants and the political outcome of a case. That means rigorously applying the appellate standards for decisions, relying upon the plain text of the statute to understand the law, and avoiding personal temptations to re-write the law in a particular direction. Finally, the Court must operate as a cohesive entity where professional disagreement does not lead to personal conflict.

Please describe what you see as the role of the Montana Supreme Court. 

The Court’s role is clearly established in the Montana Constitution and laws. The Supreme Court is the appellate court in Montana. It decides questions of law for appellate cases, occasionally hears cases under its original jurisdiction, and supervises lower courts and the attorneys admitted to practice law in Montana. The Court cannot duck hard questions or cases, but neither should it over-reach into the duties and roles of the other governmental branches. I generally adhere to the judicially conservative (not the same as politically conservative) view of appellate jurisprudence.

When should a supreme court justice recuse themselves from hearing a case?  

If a Justice has a personal connection to a case such that his or her impartiality may be questioned, he or she should recuse themselves from the case. For example in my practice, I have many cases that will end up on appeal. I would obviously recuse myself from any case where I had an involvement as an attorney. I would also recuse myself from any case where I had a direct role in advocacy before the Legislature, in the event the statute in question was being challenged. The judge should follow applicable rules or laws to ensure he or she does not present an actual or appearance of bias or conflict on a case.

Do you think justices should run under a party label, as some lawmakers have suggested?

Our current arrangement requires non-partisan judges and candidates, and I intend to follow that principle. I believe all candidates and justices should commit themselves to being fair, impartial, and non-partisan. If the people change the rule through some kind of mandatory registration requirement, I will have to consider that when the time comes. For my own purposes, I strongly support non-partisan courts, and I judge in a fair and impartial manner, even if justices were required to declare a party affiliation. It should have nothing to do with any case outcomes.

In what ways, if any, can the Montana Supreme Court improve? 

There is a perception across Montana that hyper-active litigants can run to the Court to get laws overturned if the judges don’t like them. Even if inaccurate, that perception is undermining public confidence in the court system. I will work daily to ensure decisions are made on the basis of sound legal interpretation, and not because of political influence from the left or the right.

The Supreme Court can afford to implement some common-sense modifications to the way it does business. It should reduce or potentially eliminate the use of non-cite cases, and it should increase the number of oral argument cases that it hears every year. The Chief Justice should also solicit input from judges, attorneys, and policy-makers about pressing issues for court modernization, such as courthouse security, electronic filing and accessibility of courtroom video appearances, and whether we need more judgeships in the State. The goal is to meet the needs of litigants across this growing state with timely, well-reasoned, and unbiased case decisions.

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