The Court principally handles certiorari petitions in cases decided on appeal by the Colorado Court of Appeals in appeals from courts of general jurisdiction, and from appellate decisions of courts of general jurisdiction in appeals from courts of inferior jurisdiction. In addition, the Colorado Supreme Court has jurisdiction over direct appeals in cases where a trial court finds a law unconstitutional, in death penalty cases, in water law cases, in certain election cases, in interlocutory appeals (i.e., appeals in the middle of a case) in certain matters of exceptional importance for which an ordinary appeal is not a sufficient remedy, and in certain other cases.
The Colorado Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction over attorney discipline proceedings, over advisory questions presented by the state legislature or the state attorney general, and questions referred to it by the federal courts. Furthermore, the Colorado Supreme Court has general supervisory and budget authority over the judicial branch, the court rule making process, and the regulation of attorneys. Finally, the Colorado Supreme Court makes appointments to a number of boards and commissions, which often has the effect of providing a tie breaking member in situations where the other appointees are equally divided on partisan lines.
The Justices are appointed by the Governor of Colorado to serve a term of ten years (after an initial two year term) from a list of three finalist candidates nominated by a Blue Ribbon Commission established by the state constitution. At the end of each term, Justices face a retention election at which voters can choose to retain or not retain a Justice. If a Justice was not retained, the vacancy would be filled by the Governor like any other vacancy. No appellate judge has ever been not retained in this manner since the retention election system was put in place in 1966. The Justices are not partisan officials, although they are ultimately selected by a partisan elected official.
An effort to change this system of retaining judges by initiative was rejected by voters in 2006, in part due to a campaign against the initiative which had strong support from both Democratic and Republican members of the Colorado Bar Association.
The Chief Justice is selected by the Justices from amongst themselves. As of July 1, 2006, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is paid $125,656 per year, and Associate Supreme Court Justices are paid $122,972 per year.
The current Colorado Supreme Court's membership, and the date each Justice was appointed, is as follows:
Decision making in cases before the Colorado Supreme Court is based upon individual legal issues and facts presented in the case and most cases are decided unanimously. But, Justices Eid and Coats tend to dissent more frequently than any of the other justices from decisions of the Court, often on "conservative" grounds, and together in a single opinion. Justice Rice is the next most likely to cast a dissenting vote. Since Justice Eid has joined the Court, Justice Hobbs has held the proverbial "swing vote" on the Court. He has dissented only once in 2007, as of July 19, 2007, less than any other Justice on the Colorado Supreme Court.
The most recent appointee to the Court, Justice Eid, recuses herself from consideration of cases before the Court much more frequently than the other Justices, as of July 2007, because she represented the State in many of these cases in her position as Solicitor General of Colorado, prior to her appointment to the bench by former Governor Bill Owens. Her recusals are expected to grow less frequent once the cases she participated in work their way through the judicial process. Colorado Supreme Court cases often take two years or more to go from a filing of a petition for certiorari, to issuance of an opinion, and the solicitor general is involved in the process before a petition for certiorari is filed.
While there is a chamber originally dedicated to the Colorado Supreme Court in the state capitol building, the Colorado Supreme Court and Colorado Court of Appeals have had their own building across the street from the state capitol for decades. As of July, 2007, Colorado, at the urging of the judicial branch, is in the process of considering a plan to demolish that building, along with the neighboring Colorado History Museum, and to replace those buildings with an enlarged new building to house the state's appellate courts.
The building is box-like structure raised off the ground by two square columns located on the east and west ends of the building. The only parts of the building actually on the ground level are the columns, which contain the entrances and elevators for the building.
The underside of the building has a mural depicting several notable figures, including Hammurabi, Moses and Martin Luther King. The figures represent persons who are believed to have made significant contributions to law and justice. Directly beneath the mural is a large window embedded into the ground that looks down into the underground law library. Persons in the library can look up onto the mural via the ground level glass window.
The courtroom itself is located on the fifth floor of the building (the ground level columns being the first floor). The entrance to the courtroom is two large brass colored metallic doors with a textured design on them. The courtroom is dimly lit with two stain glass windows depicting previous Supreme Court Justices. The well of the courtroom is circular, with a podium for counsel in the center. The podium is a circular column that resembles a container of lipstick that, unlike the rest of the courtroom, is well lit. It faces a semicircular bench with seats for seven justices. Behind the bench is a large drape from which the Justices enter the courtroom.