BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle announced Thursday that he will not seek reappointment by his colleagues to head the high court when his term expires at the end of the year.
VandeWalle, 86, is the longest-serving chief justice in state history and the oldest in the nation. VandeWalle announced his decision in an email to justices and district court judges Thursday afternoon.
VandeWalle told The Associated Press that he intends to remain on the court for the “immediate future” but not as chief justice.
“My mind is still good but I’m not as energetic as I use to be,” VandeWalle told the AP. “The court needs someone with more physical energy.”
VandeWalle was appointed to the Supreme Court on Aug. 15, 1978, by former Gov. Arthur Link, a Democrat. VandeWalle was reelected to his fourth 10-year term on the state’s high court in 2014. His term will expire in 2024.
“Jerry,” as he prefers to be called outside the courtroom, grew up on a dairy farm in the tiny town of Noonan and is a University of North Dakota graduate. He’s been elected chief justice by his colleagues five times since 1993.
Justices will hold their election for chief justice on Nov. 25.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as chief justice and I am grateful for your support and encouragement over the years,” he wrote to justices and judges. “I ask only that you continue that support for the next chief justice.”
Prior to his appointment to the state Supreme Court, VandeWalle worked in the state Attorney General’s office for 20 years.
As chief justice, he has successfully promoted boosting legal services for thousands of disadvantaged residents who cannot afford a lawyer. He also has advocated for more money to expand special drug courts and more pay for state district judges to retain and attract quality people.
VandeWalle was presented the state’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, in 2015 during a joint session of the Legislature.
VandeWalle has said that he never married because he was “too selfish” about his own career to start a family. He cared for his mother for decades until she died in 2006, at age 102.