He was educated in the public schools of Billings, then the third largest city in the state, graduating from high school there in 1942. He returned to his studies and graduated in 1948 from Eastern Montana College in Billings.
He enlisted in the United States Navy and served for three years, two and a half years of which were in the Pacific theater of operations. He received a Juris Doctor from George Washington University Law School in 1951, and was in private practice of law in Washington, District of Columbia from 1951 to 1952, then in Billings from 1953 to 1960. He was a deputy county attorney of Yellowstone County, Montana from 1953 to 1955, then general counsel and secretary of the City-County Planning Board of Billings in 1955.
In 1955 he became an assistant city attorney of Billings, and was the city attorney from 1957 to 1958.
Battin was elected as a Republican to the Eighty-seventh and to the three succeeding Congresses, and served from January 3, 1961, until his resignation February 27, 1969, to become United States district judge. He was nominated by President Richard M. Nixon on February 20, 1969, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Montana vacated by William James Jameson.
He was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 25, 1969, and received his commission on February 27, 1969. He became chief judge of the District on November 16, 1978, and served as chief judge until 1990.
He assumed senior status on February 13, 1990, and served in that capacity until his death, in Billings.
The James F. Battin Courthouse in Billings is named for him. One of the cases that Battin handled was the conviction of four counts of extortion of the Louisiana Teamsters Union business agent Edward Grady Partin, the one who supplied the immunized testimony that sent Jimmy Hoffa to prison.
Served with United States Naval Reserve, World World War World War II. Member American Legion, DeMolay Legion of Honor. Clubs: Mason (Shriner).
Married Barbara Choate. Children: Loyce Battin Peterson, Patricia Battin Pfeiffer, James Franklin.