Jensen to take over as North Dakota Supreme Court chief justice

The Burgum appointee will take over for Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, who has served in the position for more than 25 years.

Judge Jon Jensen Joshua Komer/Forum News Service
Justice Jon Jensen was appointed to the North Dakota Supreme Court by Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017. Joshua Komer/Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — Justice Jon Jensen will take over the top spot on the Supreme Court just a few years after being appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum. He handily defeated Justice Lisa Fair McEvers in a runoff election for the position at the state Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 12.

Jensen will sign an oath of office to take over the position on Jan. 1, 2020. The 54-year-old said he intends to run for a new 10-year term in November 2020, which would allow him to stay on the court. He has never been elected by the general population.

For more than a quarter century, only Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle has sat in the middle chair on the bench. The longest-serving chief justice in the country announced in September that he would not pursue another term in the top spot but will stay on the court. The 86-year-old VandeWalle has served in the role since 1993 and on the court since 1978.

Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle has served on the North Dakota Supreme Court for 40 years as of Aug. 15. He has been chief justice since 1993, and was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 2015. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune
Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle has served on the North Dakota Supreme Court for more than 40 years. He has been chief justice since 1993 and was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 2015. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune


Before receiving an appointment to the state's highest court in 2017, Jensen served as the presiding judge of the district court in his hometown of Grand Forks. Jensen worked at a Grand Forks law firm that focused on taxation law, business law and estate planning prior to his 2013 appointment to the district court.

The court's five justices and state's 52 district court judges were tasked with deciding who will take over the position from VandeWalle, although two eligible voters did not choose a candidate. Jensen received 39 votes to McEvers' 16.

Thursday's vote tally in Bismarck was the result of a runoff election between the two top vote-getters on a November ballot that also included Justice Daniel Crothers, who was narrowly eliminated from contention. McEvers and Jensen emerged from the tight initial vote because none of the three candidates won an outright majority. Justice Jerod Tufte was the only justice who did not express interest in the position.

Jensen said he decided to run for the position because he is very passionate about the state judicial system, but he acknowledged McEvers would have also done a fantastic job at the helm. He said he will look to generate input from the district court judges when he assumes the new role.

If McEvers had been elected, she would have been the first woman to serve as chief justice in the state's history. She was appointed by then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2014. She also was elected to an unexpired two-year term in 2016 and re-elected to a 10-year term in 2018.

Lisa Fair McEvers.jpg
Justice Lisa McEvers was appointed to the court by then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2014. Forum News Service / File photo

McEvers said she was disappointed by the vote but thought the court will be "in good hands" under Jensen's direction.


The chief justice is elected every five years unless his or her term ends before the regular term is up.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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