Who might be the next justice? (w/update)

The decision by Justice Lori Wilbur to step down from the South Dakota Supreme Court , effective in June, provides Gov. Dennis Daugaard with another opportunity to shape the court system. He appointed Wilbur in 2011. She had been a circuit judge based in Pierre since 1999 and she succeeded Justice Judith Meierhenry on the high court.

The Supreme Court’s legal position of late has been that a justice should come from the area she or he would represent. The five-justice court has five districts. The Supreme Court districts don’t geographically align with the seven circuit court districts. So there can be some unusual matching. The Judicial Qualifications Commission will accept applications for the vacancy and submit at least two names to the governor. He can choose from those names or ask for a set of new names to consider. Wilbur at one point in her judicial career served on the commission.

Justice Wilbur represents the Supreme Court’s fourth district. It includes the counties of Aurora, Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Gregory, Hanson, Hutchinson, Lincoln, McCook, Turner, Union, and Yankton. Those counties are in three judicial circuits. Presuming the next justice will have circuit judge experience — that is the case for all five current justices — and presuming the high court’s policy is followed, the next justice presumably would come from one of the circuit judges in those 14 counties.

In 2009, Circuit Judge Mark Barnett of Pierre withdrew his application for a Supreme Court appointment to represent the second district, which is Minnehaha County and part of Lincoln County. Barnett didn’t want to move to the Sioux Falls area while his application was pending.

UPDATE: In response to the comment from Casual Observer, I offer this from the South Dakota Constitution’s article on the courts:

§ 6. Qualifications of judicial personnel. Justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the circuit courts and persons presiding over courts of limited jurisdiction must be citizens of the United States, residents of the state of South Dakota and voting residents within the district, circuit or jurisdiction from which they are elected or appointed. No Supreme Court justice shall be deemed to have lost his voting residence in a district by reason of his removal to the seat of government in the discharge of his official duties. Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of circuit courts must be licensed to practice law in the state of South Dakota.


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About Bob Mercer

I am a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News, the Black Hills Pioneer, the Mitchell Daily Republic, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Rapid City Journal, the Watertown Public Opinion and the Yankton Press & Dakotan. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre, Yankton and Rapid City papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the seven papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

One thought on “Who might be the next justice? (w/update)

  1. Casual Observer

    Interestingly, Justice Wilbur did not come from the Supreme Court Fourth district she represented. Look at the counties in that district. Not Hughes. Not Lake County where she grew up. So all bets are off really. A Supreme Court Justice can come from anywhere and just must live in their Supreme Court district when they take office. Maybe a former legislator – Judge Joni Cutler. Maybe a familiar name – Sabers. Judge Susan Sabers.

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