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James Morris

12/31/2015:

For the 50 people who have served as North Dakota Supreme Court justices, December 31st is often their last day in office. On this date in 1964, one of the state’s longest serving justices retired. James Morris served on the court for nearly 30 years.

He was born in a sod house near Bordulac, North Dakota in 1893 and practiced law in Carrington in the ‘20s after serving in World War I. He worked as a city and states attorney in Foster County before his appointment to assistant attorney general and eventually attorney general in 1928. He also practiced law in Jamestown before his election to the North Dakota Supreme Court in 1934.

Morris was reelected in 1944 and 1954. In 1947, he took a year’s absence to serve as a judge at the war crimes trials in Nuremberg, Germany, appointed by President Harry Truman. Morris felt “especially fortunate to be assigned” to the task, which he considered a milestone for international jurisprudence. He presided over a trial for 23 officials of a manufacturing company that provided chemicals and ammunition for Adolf Hitler’s final solution.

All of the officials were charged with offenses that included crimes against peace, plundering property, and murdering civilians. In the end, the four-member tribunal found various defendants guilty for a smattering of crimes with sentences prosecutors found “light enough to please a chicken thief.” Prison terms for those convicted ranged from a year and a half to eight years.

Morris later summarized the verdicts and sentences as mixed, with judges unable to agree on who was guilty or whether the defendants had the freedom to exercise choice in the crimes. One judge on the panel dissented in a 114-page opinion filed months after the trial.

As for Morris, his fellow judges thought he was more worried about looming Russian communism rather than Nazi war crimes, but ultimately, Morris’s work did indeed help convict several defendants, a process that helped further international law. He died in Bismarck in 1980.

Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura

Sources

"http://www.ndcourts.gov/court/bios/Morris.htm" http://www.ndcourts.gov/court/bios/Morris.htm

"https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/history/century/II.J.htm" https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/history/century/II.J.htm