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How Does The North Dakota Supreme Court Work?

The North Dakota Supreme Court is the highest in the state and the court of last resort. The court handles appeals from decisions of the lower courts. The North Dakota Supreme Court also exercises original jurisdiction to hear certain writs such as writs of certiorari or habeas corpus. A petition to the court to exercise its original jurisdiction must state:

  • The reliefs sought 
  • The issues presented
  • Facts necessary to understand the issues in the appeal
  • The reasons why a writ should be issued and why the court should grant the relief sought.

The apex court also regulates the practice of law within the state and establishes rules of procedure for all courts. To aid the court in carrying out its function, an Administrative Council has been established. This council serves as an advisory body in the Chief Justice’s capacity as the administrative head of the court system.

The Chief Justice also appoints a clerk of the Supreme Court with the assent of other justices. The clerk supervises the calendar and assignment of cases, filing distribution, the publication of opinions of the court, and manages court records. Also, the clerk serves as the liaison between the court and the public, members of the state bar, and news media. The clerk is empowered to grant certain motions and applications for stipulation and determine petitions and motions seeking certain types of reliefs. 

To assist with its workload, the Supreme Court has the authority to establish temporary Courts of Appeal. These courts are assigned original or appellate jurisdiction by the Supreme Court. 

In its appellate jurisdiction, the Supreme Court hears appeals from the District Courts unless a statute expressly permits another court to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Individuals may represent themselves in the Supreme Court. However, legal entities such as a corporation must be represented by a lawyer. The jurisdiction of the apex court extends only to final orders or judgments. In civil cases, the District Court may enter an interlocutory decision as a final judgment for an appeal, if the provisions of  Rule 54(b) of the North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure are satisfied.

In hearing appeals, the court does not consider new evidence not presented before the District Court. Decisions are made relying on the record of proceedings of the District Court, written briefs filed by the parties, and the arguments of those briefs. For efficiency, the court maintains a calendar with a list of cases before the court in a given month. 

All documents must be filed electronically through the court’s e-portal, except in cases filed by a self-represented party or an inmate. Nevertheless, all parties are encouraged to file electronically. The electronic filing process costs 50 cents per page for an appendix exceeding 100 pages, or a motion exceeding 20 pages. Otherwise, the electronic filing process does not require a filing fee.

Documents filed in paper format are directed to the court’s clerk:

Clerk of the Supreme Court

State Capitol

600 East Boulevard Avenue

Bismarck, ND 58505–0530

In civil cases, within 60 days of the notice of judgment, the notice of appeal must be filed and acknowledged by the court’s clerk. In criminal cases, the notice of appeal must be filed and received by the court’s clerk within 30 days of final judgment entry. Sections 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, and 40 of the North Dakota Rules of Appellate Procedure prescribe the form, contents, and time for filing a brief, appendix, motion, or a petition for rehearing.

In hearing the appeal, the court reserves the right to permit, refuse, or compel a party to make oral arguments. Although a party may also request to make an oral argument, the court is not obligated to grant the request. Where no oral arguments are required, the Supreme Court will determine the appeal by relying on the briefs and records of the lower court. Where oral arguments are permitted, the appellant will have 30 minutes to put forth arguments and answer the judges’ questions. The respondent, on the other hand, will be given 20 minutes. 

Members of the public may listen live to oral arguments in the Supreme Court. The North Dakota Courts website also provides a catalog of recorded oral arguments dating back to 2001. These recordings are accessed by selecting the calendar or docket page. Typically, final decisions by the Supreme Court are given within 60 to 90 days of the oral arguments. Since the court is the apex state court, decisions made cannot be appealed to any other body. However, an aggrieved party may petition for rehearing within 14 days of the filing of the court’s final decision. 

The North Dakota Supreme Court comprises five justices. These justices are elected to ten-year tenures in nonpartisan elections. Elections are conducted in a staggered manner so that only one judgeship position is scheduled for election every two years. Where there is a vacancy due to death or retirement outside the election period, the governor may appoint a judge to fill the vacant spot. However, the appointed justice must run for election at the next elections. 

To be eligible, a candidate must be a citizen of the United States and North Dakota and also a licensed attorney in the state. The Chief Justice is chosen by the justices of the Supreme Court and the District Judges. The Chief Justice remains in office for five years or till the expiration of the ten-year term as a Supreme Court justice. The authority to appoint a retired justice of the Supreme Court or a District Court Judge as a surrogate judge also rests with the Chief Justice. Surrogate judges are to assist the Supreme Court in the performance of its judicial duties. 

The North Dakota Supreme Court sits at: 

600 East Boulevard Ave

Bismarck, ND 58505–0530

Decisions of the Supreme Court are available to the public and can be accessed in person at the clerk of the court’s office, or electronically. The court’s website contains a database of opinions delivered by the court. A search of the database may be filtered using any of these parameters:

  • Topic
  • Author( justice that gave the judgment)
  • Citation
  • Trial Judge

The court’s calendar also provides access to a list of previous cases that have been decided by the court, dating back to 1986. Selecting a case on the calendar displays a page where the user may access a court opinion. The page also contains a summary of the case, appeal numbers, briefs filed by both parties, and highlights of the case. 

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