Justice John Knauf
One of the shortest tenures of a North Dakota Supreme Court justice came to an end after less than five months and a nasty election. Governor Elmore Y. Sarles appointed thirty-eight-year-old Stutsman County Judge John Knauf in August of 1906 after Justice Newton Young resigned after eight years on the bench.
Knauf won the Republican nomination for the seat he now held, but in the election that fall, he failed to hang on the position, having drawn the ire of political boss Alexander McKenzie. McKenzie disapproved of Knauf for having successfully represented clients with grievances against the railroad, which had handsomely rewarded McKenzie for his support.
Knauf couldn’t defeat nasty rumors that he was a “boozer and a libertine.” Fellow Republicans had spread the lies. He lost the election to Democrat Charles Fisk, a former district judge who went on to serve on the state supreme court for ten years.
It was on this date in 1906, after serving only four-and-a-half months, that Knauf left the Supreme Court. He returned to his legal practice in Jamestown. The rumors against him were later found to be fabricated. He was elected to various bar association positions, including president of the Bar Association of North Dakota in 1914. He also led successful efforts to reopen Jamestown College, which he once attended. Knauf died in 1952, and since 1910, all judicial elections in North Dakota have been on a no-party ballot to eliminate political affiliations.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura