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Judicial Branch


The Judicial power of the State of Montana is vested in the following:

  • The Supreme Court, consisting of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices
  • The District Courts
  • The Workers' Compensation Court
  • The Water Court
  • The Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, which include Justice Courts, Municipal Courts, and City Courts.

Unlike most state court systems and the federal judiciary, Montana does not have an intermediate appellate court. Consequently, the Supreme Court hears direct appeals from all of the District Courts across Montana, as well as from the Workers' Compensation Court and the Water Court. Because people have a right to an appeal and there is no intermediate appellate court for Montanans to go to, the Montana Supreme Court does not have discretion to turn down appeals; it must take them all and resolve them.

The Montana Constitution also vests the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction may be asserted via habeas corpus applications from inmates and petitions for supervisory control over District Courts in cases still pending there. The Supreme Court also may exercise original jurisdiction in a case that has not been through a District Court if there are no facts in dispute and the case presents only legal or constitutional questions. An example of a case in recent years in which the Montana Supreme Court had accepted original jurisdiction of this type was the challenge to term limits.

The Montana Supreme Court has other duties, including lawyer discipline and revisions of various rules, such as the Montana Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure, the Rules of Professional Conduct that apply to Montana lawyers, and the Rules of Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement that govern lawyer discipline cases. On occasion, the Montana Supreme Court also must determine whether to impose judicial discipline as recommended by the Judicial Standards Commission. In addition, the Supreme Court, as part of the state assumption of District Court funding, must adopt a personnel plan for the Judicial Branch. The Chief Justice also chairs the District Court Council, created by the Legislature to implement and administer the state-funded District Court program.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court keeps all Supreme Court records, maintains the court's docket, and performs other administrative tasks.

The Court Administrator is the chief administrative staff person for the judiciary. Answerable to all seven justices of the Supreme Court, the administrator executes the day-to-day administrative operations of the Supreme Court, including some administrative matters concerning District Courts and Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.