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From Three to Five Justices


North Dakota’s Supreme Court has changed a fair amount from its early years. Since 1910, members of the bench have been elected on a no-party ballot. In 1930, term limits increased from six to ten years. In 1985, Beryl Levine became the first woman to serve on the court.

One change took place in 1908 when it was decided to add two seats to the court. Voters had passed a constitutional amendment in the general election that raised the number of justices to five. The referendum passed with almost seventy percent supports.

It was on this date in 1908, that the state bar association adjourned a special meeting and sent Governor John Burke a letter with its nominees of six Democrats and six Republicans to fill the new seats. The governor selected Republican Sidney E. Ellsworth (a Jamestown attorney), and Democrat John Carmody (who had served terms as Hillsboro’s mayor and Traill County’s state’s attorney).

Ellsworth and Carmody began their appointments in January of 1909, but their tenures were short lived, as both were defeated in the 1910 election. Carmody became an assistant attorney general and eventually an assistant U.S. attorney for North Dakota. He died in 1920. Ellsworth returned to his practice in Jamestown and later served as counsel to the State Highway Department. He died in 1945.

Today, five justices continue to sit on the North Dakota Supreme Court. And new appointments continue to be filled with the assistance of a judicial nominating committee of the State Bar Association.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


1908 North Dakota general election results: "https://vip.sos.nd.gov/pdfs/Abstracts%20by%20Year/1900s'%20Election%20Results/1908/General%20Election%2011-03-1908.pdf" https://vip.sos.nd.gov/pdfs/Abstracts%20by%20Year/1900s'%20Election%20Results/1908/General%20Election%2011-03-1908.pdf

State Bar Association of North Dakota. (1909). Proceedings of the state bar association of North Dakota. Tribune, State Printers and Binders: Bismarck, ND.

"https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/bios/Ellsworth.htm" https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/bios/Ellsworth.htm

"https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/bios/Carmody.htm" https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/bios/Carmody.htm