South Dakota Supreme Court

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South Dakota Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   5
Founded:   1861
Chief:  $127,000
Associates:  $125,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   8 years
Active justices

David Gilbertson  •  Steven Zinter  •  Glen A. Severson  •  Lori Wilbur  •  Janine M. Kern  •  

Seal of South Dakota.png

The South Dakota Supreme Court is the highest court in the state of South Dakota. The main job of the court is to listen to appeals from the decisions rendered by lower courts in the state. The court also has authority over some original matters, and it can be called on to advise the state's governor regarding executive powers.

The South Dakota Supreme Court is also responsible for administering the South Dakota Unified Judicial System. This system was created in 1975 through an amendment to the South Dakota Constitution. The court is responsible for developing a budget for the entire state court system and for supervising the work of the state's circuit (trial) courts. The court also makes rules covering practices and procedures of the state's court system, how the courts are administered, the terms of court, bar admissions and attorney discipline questions.[1]


The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Chief justice David Gilbertson1995-2022Gov. Bill Janklow
Justice Steven Zinter2002-2022Gov. Bill Janklow
Justice Glen A. Severson2009-2020Gov. Mike Rounds
Justice Lori Wilbur2011-2022Gov. Dennis Daugaard
Justice Janine M. Kern2015-2018Gov. Dennis Daugaard

Chief justice

The justices select their own chief justice. Chief justices are elected to four-year renewable terms.



JudgeElection Vote
WilburLori Wilbur 82.2% ApprovedA
GilbertsonDavid Gilbertson 83.4% ApprovedA
ZinterSteven Zinter 81.8% ApprovedA

Judicial selection

The Supreme Court of South Dakota is composed of a chief justice and four associate justices appointed by the governor and selected from five different appointment districts. Justices face a nonpolitical retention election three years after appointment and every eight years after that. The Supreme Court of South Dakota serves as the final appellate court in the state, reviewing the decisions of state circuit courts.[1]


The South Dakota Judicial Qualifications Commission administers the process of selecting justices to the court.[2]

To serve on the state's high court, a judge must be:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • A resident of South Dakota
  • A voting resident within the judicial district which he or she will represent.
  • Licensed to practice law in South Dakota.
  • There is a mandatory retirement age of 70.

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of South Dakota was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, South Dakota received a score of 1.05. Based on the justices selected, South Dakota was the most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[3]

Removal of justices


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 388 347
2013 326 374
2012 324 401
2011 406 331
2010 341 344
2009 391 396
2008 362 344
2007 403 382


Notable decisions


Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. South Dakota earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[8]

History of the court

The capitol of South Dakota in Pierre, which houses the South Dakota Supreme Court

A Territorial Supreme Court that covered the area that is now South Dakota and North Dakota was created in 1861. President Abraham Lincoln appointed its first three justices: Philemon Bliss, Joseph L. Williams, and George P. Willisfon. The court did not meet to dispose of any cases until 1867.

In 1889, the Dakota Territory was split into North Dakota and South Dakota. Its Territorial Supreme Court was dissolved by President Benjamin Harrison. An election was held in South Dakota to select the first state supreme court. Justices Dighton Corson, Alphonso Kellam, and John Bennett were elected and sworn-in October 15, 1889. Since there was yet no capitol building for the new state, the oath-taking ceremony took place on the Hughes County courthouse veranda. The court used the county courthouse until 1891 when they began holding court in the state legislature's senate chambers. The South Dakota Supreme Court did not receive their own chambers until the autumn of 1905.

Between 1861 and 1889, when South Dakota become a state, thirty presidential appointees served as judges of the Territorial Supreme Court. Their decisions, cited as "Dakota Reports," cover six volumes.[9]

Notable firsts

See also

External links