Supreme Court of Indiana

Supreme Court of Indiana

The Supreme Court of Indiana is the state supreme court of Indiana. The court was established by Article Seven of the Indiana Constitution and is the highest judicial authority within Indiana. The court is located at Indianapolis within the north wing of the Indiana State House building.

Developed over the history of the state, the Supreme Court succeeded the General Court of the Indiana Territory as the high court of Indiana in 1816, hearing high profile cases like "Polly v. Lasselle". Originally starting out as a three member panel, the court underwent judicial reform twice, leading to a majority of cases being delegated to lower courts, an enlarged five member panel, and the employment of a large staff to help with the court's caseload increases.

Organization and Jurisdiction

In 2008, the court consisted of one Chief Justice and four Associate Justices, the constitutional minimum. The Indiana General Assembly may increase the number of Associate Justices to a maximum eight for a total of nine Justices.Article 7, Section 10, Indiana Constitution.] cite web|url=|title=Today's Supreme Court||accessdate=2008-08-05] ICC, p. 23] The court is assisted in its administrative duties by a board of five commissioners. The commissioners are nominated by the Judicial Nominating Commission and appointed by the governor. [cite web|url= |title=Supreme Court Clerkships||accessdate=2008-06-09] The courts offices and chambers are located in the north wing of the third floor in the Indiana statehouse. The court also maintains a large legal library on the third floor that is open to the public.cite web|url=|title=Supreme Court Law Library||accessdate=2008-08-08]

The Supreme Court has no original jurisdiction in most cases, this means that it can only hear cases that are appealed to the court after having been previously heard in lower courts. Most cases begin in local circuit courts where the initial trial is held and a jury decides the outcome of the case. The circuit court decision can be appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals or the Indiana Tax Court, who can choose to hear the case or to enforce the lower courts decision. If the parties still disagree with the outcome of the case, they can appeal the decision to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can choose to hear the case and possibly overturn to the previous judgment, or the court can decline to accept the case and uphold the decision of the lower courts.Indiana Constitution Article 7 Section 4] cite web|url=|title=Appellate Process||accessdate=2008-08-05]

The Supreme Court does has original and sole jurisdiction in certain specific areas including the practice of law, discipline or disbarment of Judges appointed to the lower state courts, and supervision over the exercise of jurisdiction by the other lower courts of the State. When the court accepts cases, they will review the documentation of the trials in the lower court and sometimes allow oral arguments before making a decision. In some cases the Justices will issue a decision without hearing arguments from either side, and base their decision solely on the evidence submitted in the lower courts. The court can order a new trial take place in the local court, overturn the decision or lower courts and enforce its own decision, or uphold the decision of lower court.

The Supreme Court oversees several committees that administer the entire judicial branch of the state government. The Board of Law Examiners is chaired by a Justice of the court and is charged with setting standards for admission to the Indiana Bar Association, and testing applicants for qualifications to practice law in the state. A Justice also chairs the Disciplinary Commission, which is responsible for taking actions against members of the bar for misconduct, including revoking licenses to practice law. The Indiana Commission for Continuing Legal Education, which continually educates members of the Indiana Bar Association, reports directly to the Supreme Court. The Judicial Nominating and Qualification Commissions are chaired by the Chief Justices and is responsible for selecting candidates to fill court vacancies and recommend retirement for judges due to age or disability. The entire court takes part in the annual Judicial Conference of Indiana, attended by all the state's judges, who recommends improvements to the Supreme Court and the judiciary. The court is also responsible for implementing all laws passed by the General Assembly that affect the judiciary. [cite web|url=|title=Arms of the Court||accessdate=2008-08-08] The Division of Supreme Court Administration is staffed by clerks who oversee the fiscal management of the courts, including payroll and expenses. The division is also responsible for maintaining the court's records and assists the court in all of its administrative functions.cite web|url=|title=Division of Supreme Court Administration||accessdate=2008-08-08]

Terms and elections

Article Seven of the state constitution governs the term length of Supreme Court Justices.Indiana Constitution Article 7] When there is a vacancy on the court, a new justice is nominated using a variation of the Missouri Plan. First, a list of three qualified nominees is created by the Judicial Nominating Commission who then submit the list to the Governor. The Governor then picks the new Justice from the list. If the Governor fails to choose a replacement within sixty days, the Chief Justice or the acting Chief Justice must do so. The Chief Justice is chosen by the Judicial Nomination Commission from among the sitting Associate Justices and serves a term of five years. The Chief Justice is appointed for terms of five years and presides over the court. When the position of Chief Justice becomes vacant the most senior member of the court serves as the acting Chief Justice until a new Chief Justice is chosen by the Judicial Nominating Commission. The Chief Justice also serves as chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Justices are appointed to a term that could potentially last for ten years. Once a new Justice is chosen, he may serve for two years before being subjected to a retention election held during the first statewide election after the Justice's completion of the Justice's second year in office. The Justice is listed on the ballot with the option to be retained or to be rejected from the court. If retained the Justice may serve out the remainder of his ten year term. After a term is completed, a Justice must be reappointed by the same process used to appoint him originally in order to remain on the court. A Justice can be impeached by a majority vote of both houses of the Indiana General Assembly for misconduct. It is mandatory for a Justice to retire at age seventy-five, even if their term is incomplete.


The eligibility requirements to be nominated as a justice of the Supreme Court are established in Article Seven of the Indiana Constitution. The candidate must be a citizen of the United States and reside within the state of Indiana before being considered for the office. The candidate must also have been admitted to the practice of law in Indiana for at least ten years prior to their candidacy, or must have served as a judge of a circuit, superior, or criminal court of the State of Indiana for five years. The candidate cannot be under an indictment in any court in the United States with a crime punishable as a felony. The Judicial Nominating Commission must also ensure that they are the "most highly qualified public candidates" available.ICC, p.24 ]

Current Justices


The Indiana Supreme Court was first established in 1816 when Indiana was granted statehood. The court replaced the General Court of the Indiana Territory that had consisted of a three member panel. The new Supreme Court held its first session in Corydon on May 5, 1817. The first Supreme Court was housed in a three room building it shared with the state legislature. Under the original constitution the Justices were appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the General Assembly after which they would serve a term of six years.cite web|url=| title=History and Origins|author=Indiana Historical Bureau||accessdate=2008-06-02]

Isaac Blackford was appointed to the court in 1817 and became the second Chief Justice of the court. Blackford was the longest serving judge in the history of court, serving more than thirty-five years. He recorded all of the court's early decisions in a multi-volume work entitled "Blackford's Reports" that served many years as a foundational text on the interpretation of state laws. [Dunn, p. 336]

In 1824, the Supreme Court relocated to Indianapolis, along with the rest of the state government. There the court shared space on the second floor of the Marion County Courthouse and the later in the Third Statehouse. In 1865, the court was given its own building on lot number one of Indianapolis where it remained until coming to reside at its present location within the fifth Indiana statehouse in 1888. The Supreme Court occupies the entire north wing of the second floor of the Indiana Statehouse. [Dunn, p. 370]

In 1851, the Supreme Court was reorganized as part of the new state constitution. The position of Justices was changed from an appointed position to an elected one, judicial terms were changed to six years, and the court size was set at between three and five Justices. The court's three judges quickly became overwhelmed by the ever increasing caseload of the growing state and court was increased to four member in 1853 and five member in 1872. The court has remained at five justices since then. In 1867, the General Assembly transferred all the law books in the Indiana State Library to the possession of Supreme Court to begin the creation of a Supreme Court Law Library. The library grew into the primary legal library for the state and includes over seventy-thousand volumes.

The Supreme Court's case load continued to grow and in 1881 the General Assembly approved the creation of a panel of five commissioners to assist the Justices in their administrative tasks. Even this was not enough to handle the load and in 1891 the Appellate Court of Indiana was created to handle many of the cases of lower importance. At first the appellate court only took a small portion of the Supreme Courts caseload, but there responsibility was gradually increased.

In 1970, the court was again reorganized by a several constitutional amendments. The Appellate Court was made constitutional and renamed the Indiana Court of Appeals. The new Court of Appeals allowed the Supreme Court to choose which cases it would hear, and which cases it would leave to the lower courts. The 1970 amendments also lengthened judicial terms to ten years and changed the limits on the size of the court by requiring a new minimum of five members and a maximum of nine. The method of selecting Justices was changed from being an elected office to an appointed office. The amendment also provided for the creation the Judicial Nominating Commission to choose candidates for the position of Justice, and the Justices were made subject to a retention election. In 2004, the General Assembly created the Supreme Court Division of Administration, legalizing and expanding the role of the clerks of the court.

Landmark cases

The court has heard various cases that have had a major impact on Indiana, and others cases that have set nationwide precedents. The first of these cases was "Polly v. Lasselle", an 1820 case that resulted in all slaves in Indiana being freed. [Dunn, p. 346–348] In the 1823 case about the Fall Creek Massacre, "State v. Hudson", the court upheld a lower court's finding that crimes committed against Native Americans were punishable under American laws, leading to the first execution of a white man for crimes against natives. [Funk, p. 38–39]

In "Falkenburg v. Jones", an 1889 case, Indiana became the first state to established the right for a defendant to obtain court records free of charge. [cite book|title=Indiana Law|author=David J. Bodenhamer & Randall T. Shepard|publisher=Ohio University Press|year=2006|isbn=0821416375|url= |pages=126] In the 1909 case of "Woessner v. Bullick", the principle was established that the court could invalidate a governor's veto if proper veto procedures were not followed. [cite web|url=|title=Time Passage of Bill Overriding a Veto|accessdate=2008-07-01] The state was among the first to adopt an Exclusionary rule, established in the case of "Callendar v. State", held in 1917, by preventing illegally obtained evidence from be submitted in court. [cite book|title=Indiana Law|author=David J. Bodenhamer & Randall T. Shepard|publisher=Ohio University Press|year=2006|isbn=0821416375|pages=131|url=] "William v. Smith", a 1921 case, overturned the Indiana's eugenics laws, the first of their kind in the nation. [cite web|title=Williams v. Smith, 131 NE 2 (Ind.), 1921|url=|accessdate=2008-10-08|publisher=Indiana Center for Bioethics]

In 2008, the court heard the case of the "Democratic Party v. State". The court decision upheld Indiana's voter identification laws, the strictest in the nation at that time.

ee also

*List of Indiana Supreme Court Justices
*Indiana Court of Appeals
*Constitution of Indiana
*Government of Indiana



*cite book|title=Indiana and Indianans|author=Dunn, Jacob Piatt|publisher=American Historical Society|location=Chicago|year=1919
*cite book|title=Here is Your Indiana Government|year=2005, last revision|publisher=Indiana Chamber of Commerce|location=Indianapolis|author=ICC A new edition is published biennially.

External links

* [ Supreme Court of Indiana]
* [ Indiana]
* [ Indiana Supreme Court Legal History Lecture Series]

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