Early Montana SupCo results: Justice Gustafson, Brown, to advance to general

By: - June 7, 2022 11:30 pm

The entrance to the Montana Supreme Court (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

Incumbent Justice Ingrid Gustafson and GOP-endorsed James Brown were leading Tuesday night in the race for Montana Supreme Court justice.

Gustafson had 91,981 of the votes and Brown had 63,957 with 28 percent of precincts fully reporting.

First Judicial District Court Judge Mike McMahon was trailing with 27,492, or 15 percent of the vote.

“I am just honored and thankful that Montana voters have given me the opportunity to continue doing my work as a justice and to run for re-election to the Supreme Court in the fall,” said Gustafson, a justice since 2017, in a brief call late Tuesday. “I love the work I do, and I’m eager to continue serving Montanans and building on my nearly 20 years of judicial experience. So I’m just very thankful for the voters tonight.”

Shortly after 10:30 p.m., Brown released a statement saying he was humbled to see the level of support for his candidacy.

“Montanans have made it overwhelmingly clear that they want a justice that will protect our constitutional rights and our way of life, and that’s exactly what I will accomplish as your next justice,” Brown said in part.

The two winners of the race will advance to the November general election. By 11:56 p.m., Gustafson had 50 percent of the vote, Brown counted 35 percent, and McMahon had 14 percent.

The race is technically nonpartisan, but politics have played an outsized role in Montana’s judicial system since the 2020 elections.

The Montana Republican Party executive board voted to endorse Brown, as did Republicans U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, Gov. Greg Gianforte and Attorney General Austin Knudsen. Brown is president of the Public Service Commission and lawyer who has represented conservative interests.

Gustafson was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Judy Martz in 2004 and then appointed to the Supreme Court in 2017 by Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. She won an election in 2018.

McMahon has described himself as a conservative jurist and strict constructionist, but he and Gustafson have been attacked as a liberals. McMahon beat a Democratic-appointed judge in 2016.

Incumbent Justice Jim Rice and challenger Bill D’Alton were the only candidates to file for the other open seat on the Montana Supreme Court, so both advance, but the results give them a bead on voter sentiment before the general election. Late Tuesday, Rice had 76 percent of the vote and D’Alton had 24 percent.

This story will be updated Wednesday.

Full statement from James Brown:

“I’m humbled to see this level of support for my candidacy from Montanans residing all across the Treasure State, and to have earned your trust as we work together to restore faith in our judiciary system and in the rule of law. Montanans have made it overwhelmingly clear that they want a justice that will protect our constitutional rights and our way of life, and that’s exactly what I will accomplish as your next justice.”

“As a constitutional conservative, I am the only candidate in this race who will always follow the Constitution and the law as it is written—not make law from the bench—and I will proudly defend our constitutional rights, freedoms, and liberties.”

 

Phone comments from Justice Gustafson:

“I am just honored and thankful that Montana voters have given me the opportunity to continue doing my work as a justice and to run for re-election to the Supreme Court in the fall. I love the work I do, and I’m eager to continue serving Montanans and building on my nearly 20 years of judicial experience. So I’m just very thankful for the voters tonight.”

“I have been doing this job a long time and have been a judge a long time, and I’ve been out talking to voters about the work of the court and what courts do, so I do think experience is important to Montana voters.

“I’m just enjoying the evening. I’m very proud to have such high level of support across the state. I’ve been working hard for the last 20 years, and I feel like Montana voters have appreciated that work.”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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