Supreme experience

This year, all clerks at the North Dakota Supreme Court are UND Law grads

From left to right, Alexander Hunt, Katie Carpenter, Nick Surma, Cassandra Frederickson and Nicholas Samuelson pose in the Baker Courtroom following arguments heard by the North Dakota Supreme Court at UND’s School of Law. All five are alumni of UND Law. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Katie Carpenter says she has the best job in the world.

Carpenter, a recent UND Law grad, is serving as a law clerk with the North Dakota Supreme Court.

In fact, all five law clerks – one for each justice – with the Court are UND Law alums. It’s a competitive position, and to have all clerks hail from one law school is somewhat unusual.

“I have never been disappointed in my law clerks,” said Gerald VandeWalle, chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court, who holds undergraduate and law degrees from UND and has served on the court since 1978 and as Chief Justice since 1993. “I have had 42 law clerks, most of them from UND, and they were all top-notch. They are bright, well-educated and ready and willing to work. Their ability and eagerness keep me energized. They will do well in any court, state or federal. We could not maintain an acceptable level of docket currency without our law clerks. With the heavy caseload, they are integral to the work of the court.”

The Court was in Grand Forks – and at UND Law School – to hear four oral arguments and to judge the UND Law fall Moot Court student competition Oct. 30 and 31.

The justices, in addition to hearing cases, lectured in classes and conversed with law students, faculty and staff during their annual fall visit.

“The North Dakota Supreme Court justices’ dedication to UND Law is extraordinary,” said Mike McGinniss, dean of the School of Law. “It is reflected not only by their fall visits as a group but also by their individual visits and contributions on regular occasions throughout the year. We are very proud of this exceptional relationship with the Court, and very grateful for the justices’ generosity in welcoming our students to learn from and interact with them inside and outside of our classrooms.”

Before attending UND Law, Katie Carpenter (center) earned degrees in history, political science and Spanish at the University of Jamestown. She’s originally from Moffit, N.D. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

An amazing experience

Carpenter and her fellow alums sat down to talk with UND Today about their experience.

“I’ve learned so much,” said Carpenter, a Moffit, N.D., native who earned degrees in history, political science and Spanish at the University of Jamestown before attending UND Law. “I grew up in North Dakota, and to work with the court I’ve been seeing all my life is truly an honor.”

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Cassandra Frederickson, a Winnipeg native who earned her undergraduate degree in human rights and global studies from the University of Winnipeg. “You see law from the Chamber’s perspective. It’s been an invaluable experience.”

Law clerks assist judges by researching cases and the law, drafting opinions, and offering legal opinions to the justices.

The clerks said that UND prepared them well for their one-year appointments.

“UND Law offers so many writing opportunities,” said Nick Surma, a UND economics and political science graduate. “With the emphasis on writing, Moot Court, writing briefs, and refining my skills, I was comfortable stepping into the job.”

All five clerks reflected on the competitive nature of earning a spot as a clerk at one of the busiest Supreme Courts in the nation. Nick Surma, second from right, worked toward the goal of becoming a Supreme Court clerk throughout his three years of law school. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

A competitive position

The job is as competitive as it is prestigious.

“The application process is really rigorous,” said Alexander Hunt, who earned his bachelor’s degree in finance and entrepreneurship from the University of Minnesota-Crookston and hails from Devils Lake, N.D. “It’s pretty prestigious. A couple of the current justices had earlier clerked for the North Dakota Supreme Court.”

“I knew I wanted to do the clerkship in my first year of law school,” said Surma. “I worked toward it throughout my law school career. It all paid off, and it’s a good feeling.”

Nick Samuelson, a Fargo native who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from North Dakota State University, credited UND Law’s emphasis on experiential learning and externships for being selected as a clerk.

“I argued five cases before the Supreme Court, appeared in seven arguments, and briefed nine cases,” Samuelson said. “I was familiar with the justices. I felt I knew them.”

Getting to know the justices is one of the highlights of the job.

“I interact with my justice,” said Samuelson. “I’m comfortable going to any justice with questions. I have access to the top legal minds in North Dakota.”

“You hear so many different cases,” said Surma. “You can’t get this kind of experience anywhere else, especially with the legal knowledge of the justices.”

“I enjoy conversations with my justice,” said Samuelson. “We dig in and tease things out of cases. We explore issues in ways that weren’t briefed to us.”

“The North Dakota Supreme Court is ones of the busiest courts in the nation,” said Carpenter. “They hear more than 300 cases each year. I like how much the justices have faith and trust in my ability to find the correct law and ensure the decision is correct.”

Said UND Law Dean McGinniss, “We are so very proud of the accomplishments of these five outstanding UND Law graduates in being selected for the honor of clerking for the North Dakota Supreme Court. We are also truly grateful for the exceptional opportunities these clerkships provide and how they inspire our current students to follow in these graduates’ footsteps.”