The Idaho Supreme Court is the highest court of appeals in the state. The only court with more authority is the US Supreme Court. The Pacific Northwest state has a rich history in its judicial system. It’s a topic of interest for law students and residents with an active interest in how the legal system works. Each state-level supreme court has standards and qualifications for its justices. Not all have the same standards, but each strives to ensure that the civil rights of each person or entity appealing court decisions receive fair and just treatment. To help familiarize you with its processes, here are twenty things you probably didn’t know about the Idaho Supreme Court.
1. The Idaho Supreme court is over a century old
Ballotpedia reports that the Idaho Supreme Court emerged in 1890. The court has been in operation as the court of last resort for Idaho for 132 years as of 2022. The Idaho Supreme Court got established under the 1890 Idaho Constitution grants the authority to the court and its officials to hear appeals of district court cases for issued final rulings.
2. The Idaho Supreme Court has a broad jurisdiction
The Idaho Supreme Court hears Idaho district court cases for appeals, but the scope of its jurisdiction goes beyond. The Idaho Supreme Court is also authorized to consider orders from the Idaho Industrial Commission, The Industrial Accident Commission, and the Public Utilities Commission. For example, decisions made against corporations or individuals by the latter three agencies may appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court for reconsideration. The court may rule per the original agency decision, but it may also go against the earlier decisions, and amend or overturn them. The ruling made by the Idaho Supreme Court is the last word in the matter.
3. Idaho Supreme Court Justices are elected or appointed
There are two ways for justices to become members of the panel of Supreme Court officials for the state of Idaho. They may either be elected in nonpartisan elections or appointed by the Governor of the State. The current panel consists of four judges appointed by a Republican governor and one chosen by a general election for the post. Idaho is one of thirteen states that use this selection method for its supreme court justices. There are five judgeships on the Supreme Court of Idaho. The chief of the court is G. Richard Bevan.
4. Idaho Supreme Court justices must first qualify for the job
Idaho’s Constitution issues requirements for running for the office of supreme court justice. To qualify to have their names placed on the ballot, the incumbent must be a United States citizen. They must be a resident of Idaho for a minimum of two years. Incumbents must be at least 30 years old, and they must have a minimum of ten years of law practice in the state of Idaho. Candidates must possess all of these requirements to be eligible to run in an election. These eligibility requirements also exist for appointments from the Governor.
5. Peers choose the Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court
Idaho’s supreme court members are responsible for choosing who from among them will serve as the Chief Justice. The member with the most votes serves as Chief Justice for a four-year term.
6. The Idaho Supreme Court started when Idaho was still a territory
The roots of the Idaho Supreme Court go back to March 4, 1983. It’s when Idaho became a territory, according to the Supreme Court of Idaho State Home. The name of the court was changed. In the beginning, it was called the Territorial Supreme Court.
7. Abraham Lincoln appointed the first justices
The first justices of the Idaho Supreme Court received their appointment by President Abraham Lincoln. The judicial system has a rich and storied history and ties with President Lincoln. It’s an interesting fact that many people do not know. The judicial system in the early days aligned with the way that the government provided law, order, and justice, within its territorial holdings before each region achieved statehood. At the time of the presidential appointments of the justices there was no state of Idaho, nor was there a Constitution to lay out the rules and regulations for the appeals court. The early forerunner of the state supreme court functioned as a court of last resort for residents of the territory.
8. The number of justices for the Idaho Supreme Court has changed
When President Abraham Lincoln appointed the first justices for the Territorial Supreme Court, he set the number of the justices at five. One member got appointed as the chief justice. Although this is the same number that represents the court today, the first Constitution of Idaho set the number of its Justices at three in 1890. In 1919, an amendment to the state Constitution changed the number of justices from three to five. It has remained that way ever since.
9. The Idaho Supreme Court administers and supervises multiple bodies
The Idaho Supreme Court retains various responsibilities for the supervision and administration of other government bodies. It’s responsible for operations at the State Law Library, the Court of Appeals Clerk’s office, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Supreme Court, which combines its operations with the Court of Appeals Clerk’s Office. The Supreme Court Building is in Boise, Idaho. It houses the courtroom and offices of the justices.
10. The Idaho Supreme Court is different than the lower courts
The Idaho Supreme Court hears appeals of cases from the lower courts. It functions differently. Most cases are filed for the losing parting from a lower trial court, which tries to convince the Supreme Court that the judgment made against them was erroneous. Attorneys bring evidence to the justice’s attention that they believe will influence the decision. The respondent argues to support the previous judgment. While this aspect is the same, there is no jury involved in the considerations, deliberations, and decision-making processes. No witnesses are allowed to speak during the hearings. Attorneys for both sides of the case present the facts to the court and argue their cases.
11. Idaho Supreme Justices have a pecking order
The justices of the Idaho Supreme court enter the courtroom in a particular order. The Chief Justice enters the courtroom in the center of the four associate justices. The associate justices sit on the bench in an order that is determined by the length of service, which gives those on the bench the longest seniority over the others. It’s a matter of protocol that is consistently observed.
12. The Idaho Supreme Court hears difficult and unusual cases
We learned that most of the cases brought before the Idaho Supreme Court are those that involve unusual circumstances. Many of them raise questions about the current laws and they may point out conflicts among them. They are the most difficult cases that present situations in which there is some question as to the original verdict rendered by the lower courts. Interpreting the letter of the law can be difficult. It’s not always easy to determine the most appropriate course of action to ensure that justice is served per the principles of the law. The Idaho Supreme Court hears cases that can affect the ways that laws are interpreted by the judicial system and it can set precedence for future cases. The goal of the Idaho Supreme Justices is to serve justice by weighing all aspects of the case and rendering a fair and equitable decision for all parties involved.
13. Idaho Supreme Justices spend hours on each case
The appeals cases submitted to the Idaho Supreme Court require each justice to become intimately familiar with all of the details of each case. The court panel each received briefs submitted in the case by each side of the legal action. The study the briefs to understand the evidence presented, and to determine if the appeal is justified by any prevailing laws. They also hear the oral argument, consider the motions and spend hours of their time reading the volumes of legal documents about the case. The process requires excessive amounts of reading and consideration. Justices must compare the facts, evidence, and arguments by aligning them with the written laws that pertain to the elements of the case. It’s an exhaustive process that requires an unbiased attitude and willingness to set aside personal feelings to ensure that the law is carried out fully. In most cases, extended research is required to make comparisons and to determine if the appeal is justified. The panel must determine if the previous ruling should be overturned, and if so, how.
14. The Idaho Supreme Justices have a unique selection process for rendering verdicts
After all members of the Idaho Supreme Court have studied the facts of the case, heard the oral arguments, and arrived at a decision, they must choose a justice to present the decisions and opinions for each case heard by the court. They have a simple method to choose which Justice will do the honors. They draw lots. The selection of the presenting Justice is by chance and whose name gets chosen from a hat or other receptacle.
15. Idaho Supreme Justices are not required to achieve consensus
The judges serving on the Idaho Supreme Court may not agree with the opinions or the decisions made by the majority of the justices. The “opinion” of the case lists the reasons the panel members decided with details. If any member disagrees with the law of the case, they have the privilege to write a dissenting opinion, stating the reasons for the disagreement. Dissenting opinions become a matter of record about the overall decision. The first opinion that is written has an authoritative position.
16. The first female justice joined the Idaho Supreme Court in 1992
Wikipedia confirms that the first female to occupy a seat on the Idaho Supreme Court got her appointment from Governor Cecil Andrus in 1992. Linda Copple Trout officially ran for the position in 1996. Linda was elected by popular vote during the election year that followed her appointment. She was re-elected in 2002. She served as Chief Justice from 1997 through 2004. She is the only female to serve in the position of Chief Justice in the history of the Idaho Supreme Court. All the rest of the Chief Justices were male.
17. The Idaho Supreme Court runs staggered elections
The elections for justices for the Idaho Supreme Court are staggered. The purpose of election staggering is to ensure consistency in the composition. Elected justices serve staggered terms of six years. The position of Chief Justice is a seat that is for four years. The Chief Justice position went to the justice with the least amount of time left in their term until 1983. The selection changed to a vote of peers. Primaries are in the spring. Run-off elections conclude in November.
18. Only four females served on the Idaho Supreme Court
The Idaho Supreme Court has a history of electing male justices with few exceptions. The first woman on the Idaho Supreme Court received the appointment in 1983. The second female justice was Cathy Silak. Governor Andrus appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1992. Silak’s appointment term was up in 1993, but she got elected in 1994. A male incumbent defeated her in 2000. Linda Copple Trout retired in 2007. No women served on the Idaho Supreme Court again until Robyn Brody’s election in 2016. Brody was the first female justice of the Idaho Supreme Court not appointed by a Governor. Governor Brad Little placed Colleen Zahn on the Supreme Court in 2021. These facts tell us the general public favored male incumbents historically.
19. The locations of the Idaho Supreme Court has changed over time
The Idaho Architecture Project reports that the location of the Idaho Supreme Court has varied in the years since its inception. The Territorial Supreme Court was in various cities, including Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, and Lewiston. The official location of the court is limited to Boise, the Capital of the State. Original court chambers were in the Territorial Capitol Building. The court moved to the Boise Statehouse in Boise in 1906. In 1969 the court outgrew its facilities. It moved to a newly constructed building in the Capital Mall district in Boise.
20. The Idaho Supreme Court held an event to honor the women who served on the panel
NAWJ reports that the Idaho Supreme; court held a special event to honor the women who helped to make history through service on the court. When the honorary event of September 2017 occurred, only three women had served on the court. The Idaho Legal History Society held an event to honor those women to tell their stories. The NAWJ Idaho Chapter, Perkins cole, Idaho State Bar Fourth District, Idaho Women Lawyers, Business and Law Sections of the Fifth District of the Idaho State Bar, Givens Pursley LLP, Associated Reporting & Video, and Concordia University School of law co[hosted the reception for the event with appetizers, dessert, and a no-host bar. Justices Brody, Silak, and Trout were present at the event to share their stories. Copple Trout and Silak were both retired justices. Robyn Brody remained the only active practitioner at the time. A fourth female got elected to the Idaho Supreme Court in 2021. The election took place after the NAWJ event.