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State of South Dakota

History of Reform Efforts: South Dakota

Formal Changes Since Inception

1889
Supreme court justices elected by the people to six-year terms. Circuit court judges elected by the people to four-year terms. County court judges elected to two-year terms.

1921
Legislature established nonpartisan judicial elections.

1972
Constitutional amendment created the unified judicial system, which consisted of the supreme court, the circuit court, and courts of limited jurisdiction as established by the legislature. The amendment provided that supreme court justices would be elected from districts rather than statewide and made all judicial elections nonpartisan. Terms of both supreme court and district court judges were increased to eight years. The amendment also created the judicial qualifications commission to investigate complaints against judges and make recommendations for disciplinary action to the supreme court.

1980
Constitutional amendment established a merit selection process to fill all vacancies on the supreme court and to fill interim vacancies on the circuit court. Prior to the passage of the amendment, a working relationship had developed between the judicial qualifications commission and the governor's office whereby most of the governor's judicial appointees were selected from lists submitted by the commission.