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The South Dakota Supreme Court

Oath Ceremony for First Supreme Court
The 1889 South Dakota Constitution provided for three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The judicial branch consisted of a Supreme Court, circuit courts, county courts, and justices of the peace. The Supreme Court consisted of three judges, each selected from a district.

On October 1, 1889, a statewide election was held in South Dakota to approve the constitution, select a temporary capital, and elect a governor, legislature, and Supreme and circuit court judges. The first Supreme Court judges elected were Dighton Corson, Alphonso G. Kellam, and John E. Bennett.

On October 15, 1889, all of the newly elected officers met in Pierre to take their oath of office. However, there was no capitol building for the new officers because Pierre had just won the temporary capital site.

The oath-taking ceremony for the new officers, including the judges of the Supreme Court and the circuit courts, was described in the October 16, 1889 newspaper, The Daily Capital:

Never was there a more auspicious day for the launching of the ship of state of South Dakota. It was a perfect day. The officers all assembled on the front veranda of the courthouse in a semi-circle. The oath of office was administered by Territorial Presiding Judge Bartlett Tripp and was very short. Most of the people supposed Governor Mellette would make an inauguration speech, but in this they were disappointed as no speeches were made.

The citizens of Pierre raised $30,000 to erect and donate to the state a wooden capitol on the southwest corner of the present capitol grounds.

Old Hughes County Courthouse
Old Hughes County Courthouse

First Supreme Court Session
First Supreme Court in Session in Old Hughes County Courthouse, Left to right: Clerk Ivan W Goodne; Judge Alphonso G. Keliam; Presiding Judge Dighton Corson; and Judge John E. Bennett


First South Dakota Supreme Court Meets in Old Hughes County Courthouse The wooden South Dakota Capitol was ready for occupancy for the governor and the legislature on January 9, 1890. Unfortunately, the building was too small to house the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was given offices in the county courthouse and jointly shared the courtroom with the circuit court judge. The February 6, 1890, Free Press described the Court's first meeting in February 4, 1890:

A large delegation of attorneys, ladies, and citizens were present to witness the impressive ceremony of opening the Court. At the time set for the opening, Presiding Judge Dighton Corson, followed by Judges A.G. Kellam and J.E. Bennett, entered from their private room. As they took their positions, the attorneys and audience arose to their feet as a due mark of respect to the dignity and the majesty of the law.

Presiding Judge Corson then administered the oath for fifty-seven attorneys who were admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. Judge C.H. Winsor of Sioux Falls, the oldest member of the bar, was granted the distinction of having his name entered first on the roll of attorneys. The Court then proceeded to hear cases.

First Legislative Delegation
Supreme Court Judges and first legislative delegation leaving from Deadwood for new Capital in Pierre, 1889.

Members of the Supreme Court
The members of the Supreme Court pose with entire statehouse force in 1903 in front of the old capital. Front row second from left, Judge Dighton Corson; third from left, Judge Howord G, Fuller, fifth from left, Governor Charles N. Herreid; and sixth from left, Judge Dick Honey.


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