Judicial selection in North Dakota

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in North Dakota
Seal of North Dakota.png
North Dakota Supreme Court
Method:   Nonpartisan elections
Term:   10 years
North Dakota Court of Appeals
Method:   Temporarily appointed in panels
North Dakota District Courts
Method:   Nonpartisan election of judges
Term:   6 years

Selection of state court judges in North Dakota occurs largely through nonpartisan elections. Elected judges must run for re-election at the expiration of their terms if they wish to continue serving.[1]

Judges' terms begin on January 1 following their election.[2]

Supreme Court

See also: Nonpartisan election of judges

The five justices of the North Dakota Supreme Court are chosen in nonpartisan elections to serve 10-year terms. Judicial hopefuls compete in a primary election, and the top two candidates advance to the general election in November. At the expiration of a judge's term, he or she must run for re-election to continue serving.[1] Visit the North Dakota judicial elections page to learn more about these elections.

Selection of the chief justice

The court's chief justice is chosen by vote of the supreme and district court judges to serve a five-year term.[1]


To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • a U.S. and state citizen and
  • a licensed attorney.[1]


In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement with help from a judicial nominating commission. Alternatively, the governor may call a special election to fill the vacancy.[1]

Appointed judges serve for at least two years, after which they must run in the general election to finish the remainder of the unexpired term.[1]

Court of Appeals

Judges of the North Dakota Court of Appeals are chosen by the supreme court judges to hear cases specifically assigned to them. The court sits in three member panels, and its judges (chosen from among retired district judges, retired supreme court justices and attorneys) serve for no longer than one year.[1][3]

In some years, no cases are assigned to the court of appeals.[3]

District Court

See also: Nonpartisan election of judges

The 42 judges of the North Dakota District Courts are selected in nonpartisan elections. They serve six-year terms, after which they must run for re-election if they wish to continue serving.[1]

Policies on interim vacancies and qualifications are identical to those of the supreme court. The chief judge, however, is chosen by a vote of the judges in each district and serves in that capacity for three years.[1]

Municipal Court

See also Nonpartisan election of judges

Judges of the North Dakota Municipal Courts are chosen in nonpartisan elections to four-year terms.[3] Like other judges, they must run for re-election at the end of their term if they wish to continue serving.[4]


To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • a qualified elector of his or her municipality;
  • a municipality resident for more than nine months; and
  • a licensed attorney.*[4]

*In cities populated by fewer than 5,000 people, judges are not required to be city residents or licensed attorneys. However, such cities may impose the licensed attorney requirement on judges if they wish.[4]


Selection methods in North Dakota have undergone several significant changes since the inception of the judiciary. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:

  • 1998: Appointed interim judges must now serve at least two years before standing for election. Before this amendment, appointees served only until the next general election.
  • 1987: The North Dakota Court of Appeals was established on an "experimental basis" by the North Dakota Legislature. Its operation was extended in 1993, 1995 and 2000.
  • 1976: A judicial nominating committee was established to assist in filling interim vacancies. The commission itself was not created until 1982.
  • 1967: Established that the chief justice of the supreme court, while previously chosen by rotation, is now to be elected by the state's judges.
  • 1930: The term lengths of supreme and district court judges were lengthened. Supreme court justices are to serve for ten years instead of six, while district court judges are to serve for six years instead of four.
  • 1909: The North Dakota Legislature passed the Non-partisan Judiciary Law, prohibiting references to party affiliation in judicial nominating petitions and calling for a separate, nonpartisan ballot for judicial candidates.
  • 1889: Established that supreme court judges are to be elected by popular vote to six-year terms and district court judges to four-year terms.[5]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[6]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links


North DakotaNorth Dakota Supreme CourtNorth Dakota Court of AppealsNorth Dakota District CourtsNorth Dakota Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the District of North DakotaUnited States bankruptcy court, District of North DakotaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Eighth CircuitNorth Dakota countiesNorth Dakota judicial newsNorth Dakota judicial electionsJudicial selection in North DakotaNorthDakotaTemplate.jpg