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STATE COURTS

How are state court systems established?

State court systems are created by state constitutions. Many states have three-tiered systems of courts—trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and supreme courts. Many state trial courts are called circuit or district courts. Intermediate appellate courts are called courts of appeal. Most state final appellate courts are state supreme courts.

Many states also have separate courts for juvenile cases, probate matters (wills and trusts), and family law. Most states also recognize certain smaller courts of limited jurisdiction—often called general sessions courts or common pleas courts.

How are state court judges picked?

In most states, the bulk of judges are elected. Nearly 40 states hold judicial elections for certain judges. In many states, trial judges are selected or elected differently than appellate court judges. Some states like Utah fill most of their judges through a merit selection process. In other states, such as Alabama and Washington, hold elections for all types of judges.

For more information on how state judges are selected, visit the American Judicature's site at judicialselection.us/.

Which states do not have elections for any type of judges?

The following states do not hold elections for their judges: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

Are all state high courts called supreme courts?

No, most—but not all—state high courts are called supreme courts. In New York the Supreme Courts are trial courts, not final appellate courts. Maryland and Nebraska's high courts are called Courts of Appeals, not Supreme Courts.

Do all state high courts have the same number of justices or judges?

No, the state high courts are varied in how many justices serve on their courts. All states either have five, seven, or nine members. Only the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas have nine justices. The majority of states have seven justices, while a sizeable minority have five justices.

Number of Justices on State High Courts

Court

Number of Justices

Alabama Supreme Court

9

Alaska Supreme Court

5

Arizona Supreme Court

5

Arkansas Supreme Court

7

California Supreme Court

7

Colorado Supreme Court

7

The New York State Supreme Courthouse. While U.S. Supreme Court justices are appointed, in most states they have to run for election (iStock).

The New York State Supreme Courthouse. While U.S. Supreme Court justices are appointed, in most states they have to run for election (iStock).

Connecticut Supreme Court

7

Delaware Supreme Court

5

Florida Supreme Court

7

Georgia Supreme Court

7

Hawaii Supreme Court

5

Idaho Supreme Court

5

Illinois Supreme Court

7

Indiana Supreme Court

5

Iowa Supreme Court

7

Kansas Supreme Court

7

Kentucky Supreme Court

7

Louisiana Supreme Court

7

Maine Supreme Judicial Court

7

Maryland Court of Appeals

7

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

7

Michigan Supreme Court

7

Minnesota Supreme Court

7

Mississippi Supreme Court

9

Missouri Supreme Court

7*

Montana Supreme Court

7

Nebraska Supreme Court

7

Nevada Supreme Court

7

New Hampshire Supreme Court

5

New Jersey Supreme Court

7

New Mexico Supreme Court

5

New York Court of Appeals

7

North Carolina Supreme Court

7

North Dakota Supreme Court

5

Ohio Supreme Court

7

Oklahoma Supreme Court

9

Oregon Supreme Court

7

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

7

Rhode Island Supreme Court

5

South Carolina Supreme Court

5

South Dakota Supreme Court

5

Tennessee Supreme Court

5

Texas Supreme Court

9

Utah Supreme Court

5

Vermont Supreme Court

5

Virginia Supreme Court

7

Washington Supreme Court

9

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

5

Wisconsin Supreme Court

7

Wyoming Supreme Court

5

*Only the chief justice is called a "justice."

Are all state court systems based on the three-tiered model of trial court, intermediate appellate court, and final appellate court?

Most states do follow this three-tiered model of trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and final appellate courts. But, a few states do not. For example, South Dakota's state court system is a two-tiered model of circuit courts and one supreme court.

What is the relationship between state high courts and state constitutions?

State constitutions created the state high courts. The other relationship is that state high courts, not the U.S. Supreme Court, are the ultimate arbiters and interpreters of the meaning of state constitutions. State supreme courts are free to interpret their state constitutions to provide greater protection under the state constitution than the U.S. Supreme Court has done under the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Do many states have family courts?

Some states have specific courts that solely address family law cases. In other states, some circuit courts address family law and other types of cases. This varies dramatically from state to state. New York has a New York City Family Court, which has jurisdiction over cases involving abused or neglected children, adoption, custody and visitation, domestic violence, foster care approval and review, guardianship, juvenile delinquency, paternity, persons in need of supervision, and support. See www .nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/family/index.shtml.

Hawaii adopted family courts by statute in 1965. Delaware had its first statewide family court in 1971. The movement is on the rise for the creation of more family courts. Maine had its first family court in 1998. The North Carolina Legislature created some family courts in 1999.

 
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