Jamestown man serves on ND Supreme Court

Sydney Ellsworth was appointed to the state’s highest court in January 1909.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

North Dakota increased the number of justices on the state Supreme Court from three to five in 1908. The two extra seats benefited a Jamestown attorney when Sydney Ellsworth was appointed to the state’s highest court in January 1909.

Ellsworth was 47 when appointed. He was born in Pennsylvania, but his family moved to Kansas when he was 9 and onto Illinois when he was 13. He moved to North Dakota in 1894 at he age of 32 and began practicing law in Carrington. He moved to Jamestown and continued his practice in 1897.

He would have been a common fixture before the bench in the Stutsman County Courthouse as well as in appeal courts at the state and federal level all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anytime the governor appoints a person to fill what is normally an elected position, that person has to run for the office at the next general election.

That may have been why The Jamestown Alert reported Ellsworth would continue to make Jamestown home for his family during his duties at the Supreme Court in Bismarck.


Prior to the expansion of the North Dakota Supreme Court in 1909, it had held sessions in Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks each year. The new five-member court convened in Bismarck each April and October and the cases had to come to them.

Justices had to be “learned in the law,” according to the Constitution. This meant they had to be admitted as a practicing attorney in some state in the U.S.

Each justice had to be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen and resident of the Dakota Territory or the state of North Dakota for at least three years.

There were three openings in the North Dakota Supreme Court for the 1910 election. The two expansion seats appointed in 1909 and one of the original three justices.

Ellsworth finished fourth in the field of six candidates and lost his position on the state’s highest court.

After his defeat, he returned to his law practice in Jamestown. Ellsworth later served as attorney for the North Dakota Highway Department from 1936 to 1938 and died on Halloween of 1945.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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