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The Mission of the North Dakota Court System is to provide equal access to just, impartial, and timely resolution of disputes under the law

The North Dakota Court System was created in 1861 when the federal act for Dakota Territory created a 3-judge supreme court.  The North Dakota Court System now consists of three levels of court: the Supreme Court, the District Court, and Municipal Courts.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over decisions made in the lower courts. In addition, the court has the responsibility of regulating the practice of law  and the promulgation of statewide rules of procedure and practice before all courts of the state. There are 5 justices on the Supreme Court.  Justices are elected to 10-year terms.

The Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court is the administrative head of the court system and is responsible for its overall management.  The Chief Justice is a member of the Supreme Court who has been chosen for a 5-year term through a vote of the justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of the District Court. The court has created the Administrative Council to serve as an advisory body to the Chief Justice in carrying out his administrative duties.

The North Dakota Constitution requires the Chief Justice to appoint a State Court Administrator to assist in managing the court system. The Office of the State Court Administrator provides administrative infrastructure services to the entire court system, including human resources, finance, legal research, information technology, education, public information, statewide program management, and research and planning services.

The Clerk of the Supreme Court is appointed by the Chief Justice with the approval of the justices and serves at the pleasure of the Supreme Court. Duties of the Clerk are assigned by the Supreme Court and include supervising the calendaring and assignment of cases, managing court records, statistical reporting, and the filing, distribution, and publication of Opinions of the Court. The Clerk serves as the Court’s liaison to the public, members of the Bar, and the news media. The Clerk has the authority to grant certain motions or applications that are submitted by stipulation and to consider and determine motions and petitions seeking a number of types of relief.

Other duties of Clerk of the Supreme Court include serving as the Secretary-Treasurer of the State Board of Law Examiners and the Secretary of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court.

In 1987, the legislature authorized the creation of the Court of Appeals to assist the Supreme Court with its workload. The Court of Appeals exercises appellate and original jurisdiction as assigned by the Supreme Court. It is composed of three judges chosen from among active and retired district court judges, retired justices of the Supreme Court, and attorneys.  The term of a court of appeals judge is limited to one year.

Several waves of structural reform have led North Dakota to adopt a single level of general jurisdiction court, and that is the District Court. The District Court is a constitutionally created court and exercises original jurisdiction over all causes of action except those in which the legislature has provided otherwise. They also have appellate jurisdiction as provided by law or by Supreme Court rule. There is one district court in each of the 53 counties.

The state is divided into eight judicial districts.  District Court judges are elected to six year terms of office and have the authority to hear and decide cases in any county in the district to which they are elected, or as assigned by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. There are currently 52 district court judges. The Court may authorize the hiring of judicial referees to assist district court judges with their workload. The duties of a referee are authorized by the Supreme Court and assigned by the presiding judge of each district.  Currently, there are 5 referees serving in three judicial districts.

In each judicial district, one judge is elected by his or her peers to serve as the presiding judge. The presiding judge is the chief administrative officer of all of the courts in the judicial district and is responsible for court services for all courts within the geographical area of the judicial district.   The presiding judge is assisted by a trial court administrator who is responsible for ensuring uniform and consistent implementation of Judicial Branch policies and procedures. Among other duties, the trial court administrator supervises all trial court personnel except referees, law clerks, court reporters and electronic court recorders unless the presiding judge has assigned supervision of those positions to the administrator.

There is a Clerk of Court in each county who is responsible for the management of the daily operations of the court.  The duties of the clerk of court are assigned by the Supreme Court and by state statute. Clerks of Court may be state employees, county employees, or elected officials depending on the volume of court filings and the wishes of the county. A complete list of employment by office can be found here: Clerk information.

Surrogate Judges may be appointed by the Chief Justice to serve as needed on the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or the District Court.

The legislature has authorized the creation of Municipal Courts. Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over cases involving city ordinances. Municipal court judges are elected to 4-year terms. In a city having a population of 5,000 or more, the municipal court judge must be an attorney licensed to practice law in North Dakota. In cities with a population of less than 5,000, the city has the option of requiring the judge to be a licensed attorney.

The city may provide for a municipal court clerk who is responsible for scheduling hearings, maintaining court records, taking minutes of court proceedings, and receiving payment of court-ordered fines. The municipal court judge is responsible for those duties if the city does not provide for the appointment of a court clerk.

History of the Supreme Court