The District Courts in North Dakota

This material was compiled by North Dakota State Law Library Staff Member Rosemarie Sperle and edited by North Dakota State Law Librarian Ted Smith.

The Constitution of 1889 created a system of district courts to serve as courts of original jurisdiction below the Supreme Court. It prescribed the numbers and sizes of the original districts, as well as providing for judges and their terms of office.

As defined by the 1889 Constitution and subsequent legislation, the state was divided into six judicial districts, each of which was served by a single judge, who was elected for a four year term.

1895: District Seven was created, upon the reorganization of the old First District. One judge assigned. (1895 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 103).

1903: District Eight was created, upon the reorganization of the old Second District. One judge assigned. (1903 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 116).

1907: District Nine and District Ten were created, upon the reorganization of District Eight and District Six. One judge assigned for each district. Didn't become operative until a judge was elected in the 1908 general election. (1907 N.D. Sess. Laws chaps. 161 & 162).

1909: The Legislature enacted a law providing that district court judges should hence forth be elected on a no-party ballot. This measure became effective with the 1910 election. (1909 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 82, §1).

1911: District Eleven and District Twelve were created. One judge assigned to each district. (1911 N.D. Sess. Laws chaps. 166 & 167).

1919: The Legislature reorganized the district court system, reducing the number of districts to six, but for the first time establishing multi-judge districts. Three new judges were added at the same time, bringing the total to 15. (1919 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 167).

1930: A constitutional amendment approved June 25, 1930, increased the term of office to six years. So that terms might be staggered, when the measure became effective at the 1932 elections, the judge within each district receiving the highest number of votes won a six-year term, the second highest a four-year term and the third highest a two-year term. (1931 N.D. Sess. Laws, p.578).

1955: One additional judge was added to the Fourth Judicial District, bringing the total to 16. (1955 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 195).

1967: Three additional judges were added, two for the First Judicial District and one for the Fifth Judicial District, bringing the total to 19. (1967 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 247).

1979: A complete reorganization of the district court system was directed by the Supreme Court. Effective July 1, 1979 the state was divided into seven districts identified in terms of their geographic locations as, East Central Judicial District, Northeast Central Judicial District, Northeast Judicial District, Northwest Judicial District, South Central Judicial District, Southeast Judicial District and Southwest Judicial District. Five new judgeships were authorized by the Legislature, bringing the total to 24. (N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R. 6) (1979 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 76, § 4).

1981: Two additional judges were added, one in the Southwest Judicial District and one in the Northwest Judicial District, bringing the total to 26. (1981 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 36, § 3).

1989: One additional judge was added to the Northeast Central Judicial District, bringing the total to 27. (1987 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 2, § 4).

1991: The Legislature unified the trial courts by abolishing the county courts and combining their functions into the district court. This legislation became effective on January 1, 1995, when 25 new judicial positions were added to the judicial districts, bringing the total to 52. The legislation also provided for a reduction of the total number of judges to 42 by January 1, 2001. (1991 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 326).

2001: Seven judicial districts served by 42 judges.

2010: Two additional judgeships were added by the 2009 Legislature, one each in the Northwest and the Southeast Judicial Districts. This legislation had an effective date of january 1, 2010 and brought the total to 44 district judges in 7 judicial districts. (2009 N.D. Session Laws ch. 261).

2013: Three additional judgeships were added by the 2013 Legislature, one in the East Central Judicial District and two in the Northwest Judicial District. This legislation became effective July 1, 2013 and brought the total to 47 district judges in seven judicial districts (2013 N.D. Session Laws ch. 33 section 5).

2014: The North Dakota Supreme Court created a new judicial district under the authority granted the Supreme Court in Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution of North Dakota. The North Central Judicial District was added and became effective January 1, 2014. This brought the total to 8 judicial districts being served by 47 judges.

2015: Four additional judgeships were added by the 2015 Legislature, two in the Northwest Judicial District, one in the South Central Judicial District and one in the Southwest Judicial District. This legislation became effective July 1, 2015 and brought the total to 51 district judges in eight judicial districts (2015 N.D. Session Laws ch. 2 section 5).

Each judge is required by law to be a licensed North Dakota attorney, citizen of the United States and resident of North Dakota. No judge of the district court of this state shall engage in the practice of law, or hold any public office, elective or appointive, not judicial in nature. (Const. N.D., Art. VI, §10)