Most N.D. Supreme Court Justices, Attorneys in Fighting Sioux Nickname Case Have UND Law School Ties

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School of Law


Of the five North Dakota Supreme Court justices who soon may be at center stage in the fight over UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname, four are graduates of the UND School of Law and two, including Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, received their undergraduate education at UND.

They maybe could swap stories of college days (if not join in a chorus of “Fight on Sioux”) with Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a UND and UND Law School graduate himself, as well as lawyers representing several other parties in the case.

Stenehjem has asked the court to declare unconstitutional a law the Legislature adopted last April requiring UND to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname. The law was repealed in November but reinstated earlier this month when nickname supporters filed petitions with the secretary of state for a referendum on the repeal.

Stenehjem asked the court to consider the nickname issue at the request of the State Board of Higher Education. The board’s president, Grand Forks attorney Grant Shaft, also holds a law degree from UND — as does Reed Soderstrom, a Minot attorney and leader of the petition drive.

The Legislature could have made any Supreme Court hearing on the nickname a UND Law School reunion all around, but the Legislative Management Committee on Friday named Patrick Durick, a longtime Bismarck attorney, to represent the legislative branch. Durick is a graduate of Creighton University Law School in Omaha, Neb.

But this week, Secretary of State Al Jaeger named Fargo attorneys Sarah Andrews Herman and Matthew Kipp to represent his office in the Fighting Sioux lawsuit. Andrews holds a law degree from the University of Michigan but earned a bachelor’s degree in French and English from UND in 1974. Kipp, a 1994 North Dakota State University graduate, received his law degree from UND in 2001.

Staying objective

All the UND Law School connections are hardly surprising.

“The vast majority of lawyers in North Dakota are UND graduates, and that’s something we pride ourselves on,” said Kathryn Rand, UND Law School dean.

And Theodore Pedeliski, a retired UND political science professor who taught graduate seminars in administrative law, said he doesn’t see anyone making an issue of it or suggesting that any judge should remove himself or herself from considering the case. What will matter, he said, is how they read the Constitution and the higher education board’s place in it.

“People can set aside the alumni relationship” when arguing the merits of a case, he said. “It’s too tangential.

“I know almost all of (the attorneys) personally, and I can’t see any of them giving that a shot.”

4-of-5 vote required

The Supreme Court is the latest in a long line of venues for argument over the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo and related issues, such as whether authority over a collegiate sports nickname rests with the State Board of Higher Education or the Legislature.

The appropriateness or legitimacy of the nickname has been debated, defended and protested for decades — but especially over the past half-dozen years — at UND and on the campuses of competitors, on American Indian reservations and at NCAA headquarters, in newspapers and on blogs, on the floor of the North Dakota House and Senate and at petition-signing tables across the state.

At the Supreme Court, justices are considering a Feb. 17 request from Stenehjem for a declaratory judgment that the original law requiring UND to keep the name, which was adopted last April, is unconstitutional. That would stop a referral vote on its repeal, which is why the board’s lawsuit is aimed at the secretary of state.

By law, it would take the vote of at least four of the five justices to declare the nickname law unconstitutional.

The attorney general has asked for an expedited hearing schedule. The court had set this Fridayas deadline for the secretary of state and the petition committee to submit briefs, but late last week the court extended that deadline to next Tuesday.The Legislature, arriving late, asked for and was granted an extension to March 9.

Stenehjem, citing statewide interest in the nickname controversy and the constitutional questions that have been raised, asked the court to exercise original jurisdiction in the case and not wait to receive it from a lower court.