North Dakota: Should courts be mandated to sit outside of cities or should the supreme court have flexibility in placement?

It may sound mundane, but the question of where courts should be located at has been a contested issue for centuries. Sending judges out the rural hinterlands was one of the mandates found in the Magna Carta in 1215 as agreed to by King John.

We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will send two justices to each county four times a year, and these justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day and in the place where the court meets.

The counter argument to such judicial postings has been that most cases are not far out in rural areas but closer to the urban centers.

When North Dakota created its modern court system in 1991, eliminating the various County Courts in favor of a single District Court, the legislature mandated that at least 30% of judges be placed outside of cities. (N.D. Cent. Code 27-05-08). Last week in a 13-0 vote in committee and 90-1 in House that provision was moved closer to repeal (HB 1166) and characterized as an “anachronism” of the County Court merger. Instead, the Supreme Court would be free to establish by rule where the judge’s chambers are to be located.

HB 1166 now goes to the Senate for consideration.