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State Supreme Courts


In the United States, the state supreme court (known as the supreme judicial court in some states) is usually the highest court in the state court system.


Generally, the state supreme court is exclusively for hearing appeals of legal issues. It does not do 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 supreme court will remand to that court for a new trial.

The court consists of a panel of judges, either appointed by the state governor, or elected by the state legislature or the people for a limited term. Some states use what is known as the Missouri Plan under which the governor appoints a judge for a single term who must then receive voter approval for any successive terms.

Appellate jurisdiction

Under the American system of 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 U.S. Constitution) that gives cause for federal court jurisdiction. Rulings of state supreme courts on such matters may be appealed directly to the Supreme Court of the United States.

One of the great informal traditions of the American legal system is that all litigants are guaranteed at least one appeal after a final judgment on the merits (although the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to rule on whether this rule is required by the constitutional guarantee of due process). 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, the U.S. Supreme Court. Under such a system, intermediate appellate courts are entrusted with deciding the vast majority of appeals (most of which are half-baked attempts to challenge long-settled rules). The supreme court (federal or state) monitors the decisions of the intermediate courts. Through its discretionary power to grant writs of review or certiorari, it can concentrate on tinkering with the small number of cases that present truly novel or interesting questions of law.


In New York and Maryland, the highest court of the state is called the Court of Appeals. (In New York, the name Supreme Court is used for a trial court.) In West Virginia, the highest court of the state is called the Supreme Court of Appeals. Oklahoma and Texas have two separate highest courts, one for criminal appeals and one for civil cases. The former is called the Court of Criminal Appeals. The latter is called the Supreme Court.

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