North Dakota is just months away from having no full-time federal judges

This is an appropriate time, here in the middle of the longest government shutdown in American history, to talk about government dysfunction.

Our political leaders can’t get their work done, and while the politicians and their surrogates are all busy throwing pies at one another over who is to blame for that, the rest of us face real-world consequences.

I’m not talking about unemptied dumpsters at national parks, or even anything at all related to this specific government shutdown.

Consider this: “We are in a situation that come this fall, North Dakota will be without any full-time federal judges,” a reader who also happens to be a practicing attorney told me this week.

Former District Court Judge Ralph Erickson was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Senate confirmed him to that position on a 95-1 vote in September of 2017.

He took office there, and vacated his District Court office, in October of 2017.

That’s more than a year ago, and yet to date there has been no nomination made for his replacement.

Erickson’s promotion left only Judge Daniel Hovland serving on the North Dakota District Court, but Hovland announced last month that he’s going on senior status in November of this year.

Which means he’ll no longer be a full-time judge.

While Hovland has said he’ll continue to help with the district’s case load, and that he expects his successor to be nominated shortly, the fact is there’s a backlog in these appointments across the nation.

“I know that the President has his hands full with a federal government shutdown, along with all of the other issues with which a president has to address, but this is not an acceptable situation,” my correspondent told me.

He’s right, and that’s before we talk about the delay in appointing a new U.S. attorney for North Dakota.

We are now entering the third year of the Trump presidency, and the current U.S. attorney is a man who took over on an interim basis when Obama appointee Tim Purdon fled that office early to cash in on a private sector gig.

At least we have a nominee for U.S. attorney – former Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who held the position previously under President George W. Bush, was named in August of last year.

Yet months later, the Senate still hasn’t acted on his confirmation, and with a new Congress seated this month, I’m told that process has to start over.

I argued in a blog post recently that a reasonable explanation for the federal government’s dysfunction is that the federal government is simply too large and trying to do too many things.

This mess with federal appointments here in North Dakota and elsewhere proves that point. The federal politicians struggle to do even the most basic aspects of their jobs, like confirming judges and federal law enforcement officials.

Perhaps it’s time their job be stripped down to those basics.

Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.