Friday, November 18, 2022 - 08:31am

North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle, the longest serving justice in state history, informed Gov. Doug Burgum that he will retire Jan. 31, 2023, after more than six decades of service to the State of North Dakota, including 44 years on the Supreme Court and 27 years as chief justice.

Burgum expressed gratitude on behalf of all North Dakotans for VandeWalle’s service in a letter to Chief Justice Jon Jensen informing him of the pending vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“Justice VandeWalle has served the State of North Dakota with great honor, distinction and dedication for 64 years, beginning with his appointment as a special assistant attorney general in 1958,” Burgum stated. “He was appointed to the state’s highest court in 1978 and is the longest serving Supreme Court justice in North Dakota history. For 44 years he served the Supreme Court with fairness, compassion and commitment to equal justice, including a distinguished 27-year tenure as chief justice from 1993 to 2019, which made him the longest serving chief justice in North Dakota history and the longest serving chief justice in the nation when he passed the gavel to Chief Justice Jensen.

“Justice VandeWalle’s illustrious career has been acknowledged by his peers in North Dakota’s legal community as well as his colleagues across the country,” Burgum continued. “In 2015 he became the 42nd recipient of the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, the state’s highest citizen honor. Despite these accolades and his exceptional career, this humble native of Noonan has always remained modest and accessible to his fellow North Dakotans, insisting on simply being called ‘Jerry’ even as many continue to refer to him respectfully as ‘Chief.’ A towering figure in the legal community and beloved fixture in the halls of the Capitol, he leaves a remarkable and unparalleled legacy of service to which all North Dakotans can aspire.”

Under state law, the Judicial Nominating Committee must forward a list of nominees to the governor to fill the Supreme Court vacancy within 60 days of receiving notice that the vacancy exists. Within 30 days of receiving the list, the governor has three options: 1) fill the vacancy by appointing from the list of nominees; 2) return the list of nominees and direct the committee to reconvene; or 3) call for a special election to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term.

VandeWalle was appointed to the Supreme Court in August 1978 and elected to serve an unexpired term in November 1978. He was elected to a full 10-year term in 1984 and re-elected in 1994, 2004 and 2014. His current 10-year term expires in 2024. Because an appointment to the Supreme Court must continue for at least two years under Article VI of the North Dakota Constitution, the individual appointed to succeed VandeWalle will serve until the 2026 general election and may run for the remaining eight years of the 10-year term that begins Jan. 1, 2025.