Port: It seems personal connections matter a lot when it comes to judicial appointments in North Dakota


MINOT, N.D. — Recently, we saw headlines about Judge Douglas Bahr getting appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum to finish the term of Justice Gerald VandeWalle who has retired after a 44-year tenure on the state Supreme Court.

I thought you readers might appreciate some insight into how that process works.

Our judges are elected, but they typically run unopposed. Looking at the races for state Supreme Court we’ve had exactly three competitive races since 2000. When you vote for judges, you don’t often have a choice.

The process through which our judges are typically chosen is political, but it’s not something that happens at the ballot box. It’s fairly standard practice for judges and justices to be appointed to fill vacancies so that, by the time they reach the ballot, they’re already incumbents.

Of North Dakota’s five Supreme Court justices, four were appointed to the court first before facing election. Only Justice Jerod Tufte came to the court by way of the ballot box.

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