Profile of Former Chief Justice Ralph J. Erickstad

Former Chief Justice Erickstad talks about serving in World War II and tells us how he came to be a lawyer and a judge and eventually Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court. Since his retirement, he has served as a Surrogate Judge.

While I was flying with a B-24 Liberator Bomber crew as a Radio Operator, Machine Gunner with the 8th Air Force during World War II over Germany, I decided that when the war was over, I would apply for a position with the U.S. State Department to resolve the world's problems through diplomacy rather than through war.

When the war came to an end and I returned home, I applied for admission to the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, and I was accepted. But when my father learned of my plans to attend that school, with my objective, he informed me that he would not assist me financially. He must have had some premonition of what was in store for our diplomatic missions—witness the hostage-taking of our diplomatic people in Iran shortly thereafter.

In any case, I abandoned those plans and instead applied for admission to the Law School at the University of Minnesota and was accepted. Within a few years, I received an L.L.B. Degree and a Juris Doctor Degree.

Thereafter, I returned home to Ramsey County to practice law in Devils Lake, North Dakota, where I was first elected States Attorney of Ramsey County and later a State Senator from that area. I served for three sessions: 1957, 1959, and 1961. I served as Assistant Majority Floor Leader and as a member of the State Budget Board. When that activity began to occupy most of my time, I decided I had better seek a position that would pay me a living wage.

At about that time, I sought the endorsement of the Republican Party for election to Congress. Hjalmar Nygaard won that endorsement and was later elected to Congress. With that office filled and a judgeship on the North Dakota Supreme Court possibly soon to be open, I filed petitions for election to the Supreme Court. Through a statewide election, I ultimately won a position on that court by only about one vote per precinct statewide. I was elected three times to that court, where I served for 30 years, the last 20 years as Chief Justice.

I tried to work toward implementing the Unified Court, which the people had approved by a narrow majority in 1976 when they approved the new Judicial Article of the State Constitution. Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle and the current members of the North Dakota Supreme Court are left with the difficult task of carrying out the complete implementation of the Unified Court with the necessary aid of all the justices, judges, and lawyers in the state as well as with the necessary aid of the legislature and its staff, and all employees and committee members of the North Dakota Judicial system.