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March 1: Justice Beryl Levine

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Four women have served on the North Dakota Supreme Court. The first was Beryl Levine, appointed by Governor George Sinner in 1985. Voters later elected and re-elected Levine to the court. She served 11 years on the court, and retired on this date in 1996.

She is remembered for her passion for equality and fairness.

In a divorce appeal in 1985, Levine criticized a lower court for not treating a wife’s working contributions the same as her husband’s. She wrote: “While a husband and wife may often themselves decide that the ‘working wife’ bear the brunt of the responsibilities of managing home and children, thereby in fact fulfilling two jobs, home and work, the law should not and indeed does not impose any such duties on either working spouse.”

In another divorce case in 1995, Levine stated it is “a plain fact” that women are more likely than men to be economically disadvantaged by divorce. She wrote: “The reality of gender-based bias, discrimination, and detriment is not pretty, and we cannot make it go away merely by calling it a ‘stereotyped assumption’ and closing our eyes to it under the guise of ‘blind justice.’"

In another case from 1994, Levine highlighted the gender pay disparity of a divorcing couple and the difficulty for the wife to maintain her standard of living after the divorce. Levine wrote: “Our modern view of marriage is that it is a partnership with each party making valuable contributions to the enterprise. The common law duty of the husband to support the wife has been supplanted by the mutual duty of the husband and wife to support each other.”

Levine befriended the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after the two attended a judicial conference in Colorado. In 1996, Ginsburg cited Levine in an opinion that struck down a military school’s male-only admission policy. Ginsburg sent Levine an advance copy of the opinion with a note to “turn immediately” to footnote 20, which quoted Levine.

Beryl Levine died in 2022 at age 86. The state Supreme Court dedicated a conference room in her honor later that year.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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