State supreme court

State supreme court

This article discusses the state supreme courts in the United States. See Australian court hierarchy for the counterparts in Australian states. See Supreme court for the highest court in a country.

In the United States, the state supreme court (known by various names in various states) is the highest state court in the state court system.

Generally, the state supreme court is exclusively for hearing appeals of legal issues. It does not make any finding of facts, and thus holds no trials. In the rare case where the trial court made an egregious error in its finding of facts, the state supreme court will remand to the trial court for a new trial. This responsibility of correcting the errors of inferior courts has resulted in a variety of names for state supreme courts.

The court consists of a panel of judges selected by methods outlined in the state constitution.

Appellate jurisdiction

Under American federalism, the interpretation of a state supreme court on a matter of state law is normally final and binding and must be accepted in both state and federal courts.

Federal courts may only overrule a state court when there is a federal question, which is to say, a specific issue (such as consistency with the Federal Constitution) that gives rise to federal jurisdiction. Rulings of state supreme courts on such matters may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court of the United States.

One of the informal traditions of the American legal system is that all litigants are guaranteed at least one appeal after a final judgment on the merits. However, appeal is merely a privilege provided by statute in 47 states and in federal judicial proceedings; the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that there is no federal constitutional right to an appeal.

Since a few states lack intermediate appellate courts, the state supreme court operates under "mandatory review", in which it must hear all appeals from the trial courts. Such judicial systems are usually very congested.

Most state supreme courts have implemented "discretionary review," like their federal counterpart. Under such a system, intermediate appellate courts are entrusted with deciding the vast majority of appeals. For certain limited categories of cases, the state supreme court still operates under mandatory review, usually with regard to cases involving the interpretation of the state constitution or capital punishment. But for the vast majority, the state supreme court possesses the discretion to grant certiorari (known as review in states that discourage the use of Latin). These cases usually pertain to issues which different appellate courts within its jurisdiction have decided differently, or highly controversial cases involving a completely new legal issue never seen in that state.

Iowa has a unique procedure for appeals. In that state, all appeals are filed with the Supreme Court, which then keeps all cases of first impression for itself to decide. It forwards the remaining cases — which deal with points of law it has already addressed — to the intermediate Court of Appeals.


"Court of Appeals"

Because state supreme courts generally hear only appeals, some courts have names which directly indicate their function — in the states of New York and Maryland, and in the District of Columbia, the highest court is called "Court of Appeals." In New York, the "Supreme Court" is the trial court of general unlimited jurisdiction and the intermediate appellate court is called the "Supreme Court—Appellate Division." Maryland's jury trial courts are called "Circuit Courts" (non-jury trials are usually conducted by the "District Courts," whose decisions may be appealed to the Circuit Courts), and the intermediate appellate court is called the "Court of Special Appeals." West Virginia mixes the two; its highest court is called the "Supreme Court of Appeals."

Other states' supreme courts have used the term "Appeals": New Jersey's supreme courts under the 1844 constitution and Delaware's supreme court were both the "Court of Errors and Appeals"; The term "Errors" refers to the now-obsolete writ of error, which was used by state supreme courts to correct certain types of egregious errors committed by lower courts.

Older terminology

Massachusetts and New Hampshire originally named their highest courts the "Superior Court of Judicature." Currently, Massachusetts used the names "Supreme Judicial Court" (to distinguish itself from the state legislature, which is called the Massachusetts General Court), while New Hampshire uses the name "Supreme Court." Additionally the highest court in Maine is named the "Supreme Judicial Court." In Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, the highest courts formerly used variations of the term "Court of Errors," which indicated that the court's primary purpose was to correct the errors of lower courts.

Dual supreme courts

Oklahoma and Texas have two separate "supreme courts": one for criminal appeals and one for civil cases - the former being called "Court of Criminal Appeals", and the latter the "Supreme Court."

Methods of composition and practitioners

There are five specific methods of selecting judges to sit on the states' top courts, which can be consolidated into two related ones and one hybrid: Elections (popularly, with party involvement; the same without political party involvement; by the state legislature); selection by the executive (Governor); or a modified version of the last (such as the Missouri Plan). Each method has its supporters and detractors, and at least one method (The Missouri Plan) was created specifically because of the contentiousness of another.

The Federal territories of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico all empower the executive to appoint their judges. In the case of American Samoa, however, the executive is the United States Secretary of the Interior, not the local governor.

List of state supreme courts

Supreme courts in the U.S. territories and federal district

Supreme courts of sovereign nations

See also


External links

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