Dakota Datebook

Increase in Justice(s)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The make-up and guidelines of the North Dakota Supreme Court was originally outlined in the 1889 State Constitution. Through the years, however, amendments adopted by voters created a number of changes. In 1903, the state legislature increased the salary of the justices from $4,000 to $5,000, and, in 1907, allowed an additional $500 for traveling expenses. Part of the salary increase was due to the fact that the court was migratory, meaning the justices were required to change locations throughout the year. Additionally, the justices had no secretaries or librarians of their own, and were required to produce a report for each decided case of not less than 550 pages. As one can imagine, the intense workload created quite a strain on early justices.

One Bismarck investigator suggested in 1907 that the number of justices on the court be increased from three to five, saying the judges were “worked like horses in harvest!…It is no eight-hour day with them.”

The legislative assembly found that “judges who work continuously under high pressure and the stimulus to ‘keep up the calendar’ cannot in nature render the highest and best service.” Therefore, in November of 1908, voters of the state passed a constitutional amendment increasing the number of seated justices to five, and on this date the following year, Governor Burke was given the privilege to appoint two additional members to the court – John Carmody and Sidney Ellsworth .

Also that year, in February, the legislature passed an act that largely confined the court to Bismarck for two sessions of the year, limiting the travel to further alleviate the strain.



Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job



Lounsberry, Clement Augustus. 1913 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American

History: pp. 453-457. Liberty Press: Washington, DC.







This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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