I. Leaving the Nineteenth Century
. . .
E. The First Justices
Chief Justice Corliss (1889-1898) was born in New York state in 1858, studied law there in a lawyer's office, and joined the New York bar in 1879.(63) At age thirty-one, he became North Dakota's youngest justice ever. Justice Bartholomew (1889-1900) was born in Illinois in 1843, studied law with a lawyer in Iowa after service in the Union army in the Civil War, and began practice in Iowa in 1869.(64) Justice Wallin (1889-1902) was born in New York state in 1836, obtained his legal education at the University of Michigan, and joined the Illinois and Michigan bars in 1862.(65) All three first justices came to northern Dakota Territory in 1883.(66)
The first three justices were apparently scholars.(67) Their Court was described as "one of great ability" by Lounsberry.(68) He declared: "Perhaps it would not be extravagant or beyond the bounds of truth to say it was one of superior ability," reasoning that the "frequent reference to their decisions, as clear interpretations of the law, found in the reports of other states is proof of this."(69)
Justice Corliss drew a three-year term, the shortest of the staggered terms, when the justices "cast lots for length of term of office as prescribed by the Constitution" after they took office.(70) "By a unique [1889 constitutional] provision [Section 93]--and one peculiar to North Dakota--no Chief Justice was to be elected by the people," Lounsberry explained, "but the judge having the shortest term to serve, not holding his office by appointment or election to fill a vacancy, should be" the Chief Justice.(71)
Thus, the comparatively young Justice Corliss became the first Chief Justice by sheer chance. The mechanical method of designating the justice with the shortest term to be Chief Justice continued virtually unchanged for over seventy-five years.
63. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 22.
64. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 23. Justice David Morgan (1901-1911), a former Devils Lake practitioner and 11-year district judge, was elected in 1900 to succeed Justice Bartholomew. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 26. Ill health caused Justice Morgan to retire. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 26.
65. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 24. Mr. Newton asserted "none of the first three judges elected was a law school graduate, and while all were learned men, their formal education was not extensive." Newton, supra note 5, at 5.
66. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 22-24. There may be some question whether Chief Justice Corliss resided in northern Dakota Territory continuously from 1883. See Lounsberry, supra note 1, at 396-97. Or did Lounsberry confuse the effect of the residency requirement on Corliss with that of the age requirement? See Newton, supra, note 5, at 4-5.
67. "Although these three were learned men, none of them was a law school graduate." Newton, Appellate Practice, supra note 4, at 156.
68. Lounsberry, supra note 1, at 449. Mr. Newton adds: "Judge Corliss . . . was a great student of Shakespeare and many of the first graduates of the University of North Dakota tell of his Shakespearian Lectures and portrayal of the characters in Shakespeare's plays." Newton, supra note 5, at 5.
69. Lounsberry, supra note 1, at 449.
70. See Supreme Court Minutes, supra note 60; see also N.D. Const. art. IV, § 92 (repealed 1976).
71. Lounsberry, supra note 1, at 444.