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A Brief History of Codification of North Dakota Law

After admission to the Union in 1889, the Legislative Assembly of 1891 created a three-person code commission to compile and harmonize the body of statutory law (1891 Session Laws, Chapter 82, House Bill No. 165). This commission submitted a report of its work to the 1893 session. Legislators took no action as a drawn-out contest to elect a United States Senator diverted their attention. The 1893 Legislative Assembly did adopt legislation creating a new three-member commission to continue the codification work (1893 Session Laws, Chapter 74, House Bill No. 224). The result was the first volume of organized law in North Dakota: the Revised Codes of North Dakota 1895. "Codes" refers to the organizational scheme of the statutes into the Probate Code, Justices' Code, Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Civil Code, Code of Civil Procedure, and Political Code.

The 2,500 printed copies were so popular the 1897 Legislative Assembly adopted legislation directing the Secretary of State to provide a new compilation (1897 Session Laws, Chapter 97, Senate Bill No. 159). Work done by a member of the Burleigh County Bar Association and the editor of the Bismarck Tribune resulted in a two-volume set--the Revised Codes of North Dakota 1899.

In 1905 the Legislative Assembly authorized the Secretary of State to hire compilers and other persons learned in law to prepare the next compilation of the state's statutes (1905 Session Laws, Chapter 41, House Bill No. 288). This time joining the Burleigh County Bar Association member and the editor of the Bismarck Tribune were members of the 1891 revision commission and the clerk of the Supreme Court. Their work resulted in one large volume--the Revised Codes of North Dakota 1905.

In 1913 the Legislative Assembly directed the Secretary of State to enter a contract with The Lawyers' Co-operative Publishing Company of Rochester, New York, to prepare and publish a new codification to be known as the Compiled Laws of the State of North Dakota for the year 1913 (1913 Session Laws, Chapter 197, Senate Bill No. 286). This two-volume set came to be titled the Compiled Laws of North Dakota 1913.

In 1925 the Secretary of State signed a contract with the same Rochester, New York, publisher for the publication of a supplement to the Compiled Laws of North Dakota 1913. That volume included all the statutes enacted in 1915, 1917, 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1925 (1925 Session Laws, Chapter 158, House Bill No. 131). A single volume was titled Supplement to the 1913 Compiled Laws of the State of North Dakota 1913-1925. A North Dakota Supreme Court justice chaired the committee appointed by the State Bar Association of North Dakota, which developed the plan for revision.

No new codification appeared until the North Dakota Revised Code of 1943. That multivolume set resulted from the work of three attorneys named by the North Dakota Supreme Court in 1939 as the Code Revision Commission (1939 Session Laws, Chapter 110, Senate Bill No. 88). The plan was to have the new code ready for the 1941 Legislative Assembly to adopt. There was a delay in the appointment of commission members because of litigation involving the validity of specific provisions in the 1939 Act. As a result, the commission was unable to meet the timetable. In 1941 the Legislative Assembly extended the commission for another two years (1941 Session Laws, Chapter 32, Senate Bill No. 31). The 1941 legislative session created an interim committee of legislators to review the work of the commission and offer suggestions (1941 Session Laws, p. 608, Senate Concurrent Resolution "H"). A number of additional committees, appointed by the president of the State Bar Association of North Dakota as well as other attorneys and judges, acted in an advisory capacity.

The North Dakota Revised Code of 1943 was prepared differently from earlier codifications. It came as a seven-volume set following the format of United States statutes and those of other states. As a single code, the statutes were arranged under broad titles, chapters, and then sections. For example, 4-1703 is read as Title 4 - Agriculture, Chapter 17 - Dairy Department, and Section 03 - Duties of Dairy Commissioner.

Prior to the publication of the North Dakota Revised Code of 1943, there had been no attempt to eliminate laws, which for various reasons had become obsolete. The 1943 Code Revision Commission worked to clean up the state's statutes by eliminating obsolete provisions, reconciling inconsistencies, clarifying obscure language, and removing duplications. To do that, they had to examine all previous codifications and session laws – 29 volumes in all. And they did it during World War II which impacted their efforts when the chief revisor and chair of the commission were drafted, followed shortly by two revisors employed by the commission. The War Production Board voided the contract the commission had for printing its report to the 1943 Legislative Assembly thus causing unexpected expense and exhausting the appropriation for the project. The Legislative Council library houses the 1943 Code Revisor's notes, a multivolume paperbound set of explanation on a statute-by-statute basis of changes made by the commission.

Supplements to the 1943 code came in 1947, 1949, 1953, and 1957 (1947 Session Laws, Chapter 303, Senate Bill No. 217, 1949). This legislation provided for the Secretary of State to prepare supplements following a legislative session.

In 1959 the Legislative Assembly authorized the Secretary of State to contract with a legal publisher for republication of the North Dakota Revised Code of 1943 and submit that republication to the 1961 Legislative Assembly (1959 Session Laws, Chapter 37, Senate Bill No. 50). The 1959 law gave the Legislative Research Committee (predecessor to the Legislative Management) the task of designing the form, style, and content with the ability to make changes in the North Dakota Revised Code of 1943 by fixing minor errors, clarifying statutes, and deleting obsolete or ambiguous sections of law. The revisor's notes in a single paperbound volume housed in the Legislative Council library provide detail of changes made. The Legislative Research Committee's Subcommittee on Judiciary and Code Revision chose the name of the new 14-volume codification to be North Dakota Century Code as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of establishment of Dakota Territory in 1861. The 14 volumes appeared between the years 1959 and 1960. Although all but one of the members of the subcommittee were lawyers, they appointed an advisory committee of three lawyers representing the state's Judicial Council, the University of North Dakota School of Law, and the State Bar Association of North Dakota. Allen Smith Company, a law book publisher based in Indianapolis, Indiana, was awarded the printing contract. In 1985 the Allen Smith Company was purchased by the Michie Company. In 1988 LexisNexis acquired the Michie Company. In 1994 Reed Elsevier bought LexisNexis. LexisNexis encompasses several legal publishing firms, including Matthew Bender & Company, Inc., which now publishes the Century Code.

One of the changes that came with the Century Code was the placement of the hyphen in section numbers. Previously the hyphen separated the title from the chapter and section number, i.e., 4-1703. The Century Code now uses a hyphen to distinguish between title, chapter, and section, i.e., 4-17-03. Following a legislative session, pocket part supplements to the Century Code are published for each volume. This practice differs from that of the North Dakota Revised Code of 1943 where the supplements were published as a single volume, i.e., 1947, 1949, 1953, and 1957. Replacement volumes of the code are published if the size of the supplements is substantial due to the number of changes made. The Legislative Council library houses all codes, all supplements, and all replacement volumes.

North Dakota's codifications:

  • The Revised Codes of North Dakota 1895.
  • The Revised Codes of North Dakota 1899.
  • The Revised Codes of North Dakota 1905.
  • The Compiled Laws of North Dakota 1913.
  • The Compiled Laws of North Dakota 1913-1925.
  • The North Dakota Revised Code of 1943.
  • Revised Code of 1943, 1947, 1949, 1953, and 1957 supplements.
  • The North Dakota Century Code.

 

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