North Dakota has the least amount of attorneys in the country, with 1,300 lawyers licensed to practice in the state. North Dakotan attorneys are licensed to practice in the state’s 4-tiered court system. The North Dakota court system includes a Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Court, and a variety of Municipal Courts spread throughout the state’s seven judicial districts. The District Court is the state’s primary trial court and its 42 district judges hear the majority of cases.
Besides being the court of last resort, the North Dakota Supreme Court also serves as the administrator of the entire judicial system. Under the authority of the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court oversees judicial discipline, financing, and organization of the lower courts, their judges, and state attorneys.
North Dakota is one of 16 states that limits punitive damages by statute. Punitive damages are damages meant to punish a defendant and deter conduct. High punitive damages, sometimes in the realm of a billion dollars, have caused controversy and caused both state legislatures and the courts to seek means of limiting the amount that a jury can award a plaintiff. North Dakota’s law was mentioned in the Supreme Court Case of BMW v Gore, one of the most important punitive damages cases.
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Although not popularly known, North Dakota has also contributed to federal judicial precedent in the area of civil procedure and state taxes. The case of Quill v. North Dakota set the important precedent that if a state does not have the authority to bring an out of state defendant to trial in its court system, the state may still lack the authority to impose taxes which burden the defendant under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
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