20 Things You Didn’t Know about The Indiana Supreme Court

Indiana Supreme Court

The Indiana Supreme Court was established in Corydon in 1816 at the same time as Indiana was granted statehood. Since then, its remit, size, and even location have all changed. Today, it sits in Indianapolis as the highest judicial authority in the state. Over its long history, the court has introduced significant changes to Indiana law and set precedents across the US. Learn more about its history, purpose, and significance as we look at 20 things you might not know about the Indiana Supreme Court.

1. The Indiana Supreme Court was established in 1816

The Indiana Supreme Court can trace its history to December 11, 1816. When Indiana was granted statehood, the Supreme Court was established to replace the General Court of the Indiana Territory. According to liquisearch.com, the court was originally appointed by the state governor who appointed justices with the state senate’s “advice and consent.” In the early days of the court, justices were appointed for a term of seven years. The court held its first session in Corydon on May 5, 1817.

2. The Indiana Supreme Court is located in Indianapolis

The Indiana Supreme Court was initially based in Corydon, but when the rest of the state’s government relocated to Indianapolis in 1824, the Supreme Court went with it. For the first few years after the move, it shared occupancy of the second floor of the Marion County Courthouse. After that, it relocated to the third Indiana Statehouse before moving to its own building on lot number one in Indianapolis in 1865. In 1888, it moved to the fifth Indiana Statehouse, where it remains to this day. Several administrative offices are also housed in the PNC Center downtown.

3. The Indiana Supreme Court’s first chief justice was John Johnson

Following the establishment of the Indiana Supreme Court, Jonathan Jennings, Indiana’s first governor, was tasked with nominating the court’s first justices. Like the General Court of the Indiana Territory, the court initially consisted of three members: John Johnson of Vincennes Knox County; James Scott of Charlestown Clark County; and Jesse Holman of Aurora Dearborn County. Johnson was selected as the first chief justice but passed away within less than a year. He was replaced by Isaac Newton Blackford.

4. The Indiana Supreme Court’s longest service justice was Isaac Blackford

Isaac Newton Blackford, Indiana’s second chief justice, was the court’s longest service justice (and one of the longest-serving jurists in US history), serving over 36 years in total. Widely considered the most influential jurist in Indiana’s history, his eight-volume chronicle of the court’s early decisions, Blackford’s Reports, quickly became a staple in law schools and law firms across the US. The reports were cited in court decisions over 4,000 times by Indiana courts, over 3,000 times in other US state courts, and over 1,400 times by federal courts and the United States Supreme Court between their original publication date and 1930.

5. The Indiana Supreme Court became more democratic in 1851

Up until the 1850s, justices were appointed to the Indiana Supreme Court by the governor. In 1851, the introduction of a new state constitution bought in several significant changes to the process. Justices were now elected rather than appointed, judicial terms were capped at six years, and the number of justices was set as a minimum of three and a maximum of five. Within two years, the minimum number of justices was increased to four members due to the overflow of cases and by 1872, it had increased to a minimum of five. It’s remained at five since then.

6. The Indiana Supreme Court was re-organized in 1970

During the first 50 years of the Indiana Supreme Court’s history, the caseload expanded significantly. In an effort to handle the load, the general assembly authorized the creation of a five-member panel of commissioners to reduce the administrative burden on the justices. However, the caseload continued to grow and in 1891, the Appellate Court of Indiana was established. Initially, it was tasked with handling minor cases only, but in 1970 the Court was significantly re-organized to expand its remit. The Appellate Court of Indiana became the Indiana Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court was given the authority to decide which cases to hear and which should be left to the lower courts. Other amendments included lengthening judicial terms from six years to ten years, increasing the maximum number of justices to nine, introducing a Judicial Nominating Commission to recruit candidates, and changing the method of selecting justices from statewide election to governor appointment.

7. The Indiana Supreme Court has no original jurisdiction… most of the time

Since the amendment of the court system in 1970, the Indiana Supreme Court will usually only hear cases that have already been heard in lower courts. Typically, most cases are first heard in local circuit courts – if an appeal is made, the Indiana Court of Appeals or the Indiana Tax Court will then decide whether to enforce the original decision or re-hear the case. If their decision is also appealed, it will then be presented to the Indiana Supreme Court.

8. The Indiana Supreme Court has sole jurisdiction over the practice of law

While the Indiana Supreme Court will typically only hear cases that have already passed through the lower courts, it does have original jurisdiction in certain matters. These include cases involving the practice of law and cases bought against justices of the lower courts.

9. The Indiana Supreme Court has strict eligibility requirements

In order to be selected as a justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, candidates must meet strict eligibility requirements. All candidates must be US citizens and residents of Indiana. Additionally, they must have either been admitted to practice law in Indiana for at least 10 years or have served as a trial court judge for five years or more. As expected, candidates who have been charged with a felony in any US court are barred from the selection process.

10. The Indiana Supreme Court enforces mandatory retirement

The term for justices currently stands at 10 years. After 2 years in office, the decision to retain or reject a justice will be put to the public as part of a statewide retention election. If they are retained, they can run for retention at the end of their original term using the same process as the original selection process for an additional 10-year term. The court enforces a mandatory retirement at the age of 75 which will be enforced regardless of whether the justice still has any term remaining.

11. The Indiana Supreme Court has five judges

At present, the Indiana Supreme Court has five judges, all of which have been appointed by a Republican governor. These include Loretta Rush (appointed November 7, 2012, by Mitch Daniels) Steven H. David (appointed October 18, 2010, by Mitch Daniels), Mark Massa (appointed April 2, 2012, by Mitch Daniels), Geoffrey G. Slaughter (appointed June 13, 2016, by Mike Pence), and Christopher M. Goff (appointed July 24, 2017, by Eric Holcomb).

12. The Indiana Supreme Court can make one of three judgments

If a case is bought to the Indiana Supreme Court for appeal, the court can either decline it (in which case the judgment of the lower court will stand) or accept it. If it accepts it, it will review the case details and documentation of the previous trials. If the justices feel the documentation is sufficient, they may make a decision without hearing any new evidence. In other cases, they may allow parties to submit additional oral testimony. Once a decision is made, the court can either elect to overturn the original decision and enforce its own, uphold the original decision, or order a re-trial.

13. The Indiana Supreme Court is assisted by three commissions

The Indiana Supreme Court is supported in its role by three commissions, each with its distinct remit. According to mckinneylaw.iu.edu, the Board of Law Examiners is tasked to “inquire into and determine the character, fitness, and general qualifications to be admitted to practice law as a member of the bar of the Indiana Supreme Court.” The Commission for Continuing Legal Education is responsible for improving the quality of the judiciary and bar by developing and administering the continuing education and training requirements for judges, attorneys, and mediators. Lastly, The Disciplinary Commission investigates allegations of misconduct against members of the bar.

14. The Judicial Nominating Commission is responsible for recruitment to the Indiana Supreme Court

Although the governor of Indiana is responsible for appointing justices to the Indiana Supreme Court, the responsibility for recruiting applicants falls to the Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission, which is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, also has responsibility for recruiting members of the Court of Appeals and the Tax Court. After interviewing potential applicants, the commission selects three nominees to send to the governor for final selection.

15. The Indiana Supreme Court’s judgments are binding

When the Supreme Court makes a judgment on a constitutional issue relating to state law, that judgment is almost always final and binding to both state and federal courts. The only occasion in which a federal court may overrule and enforce a different verdict is in cases that fall into federal jurisdiction. The court’s decision may also be amended in very rare cases by constitutional amendment.

16. The Indiana Supreme Court has heard several landmark cases

Over its history, the Indiana Supreme Court has overseen numerous landmark cases that have had a nationwide impact. Some of the most significant cases include Lasselle v. State (1820), which resulted in the overturning of slavery in Indiana; State v. Hudson (1823), which resulted in the first execution of a white man for a crime against a Native American; Falkenburg v. Jones (1854), which established the right of defendants to freely access court records; Woessner v. Bullick (1909), which effectively ruled the pocket-veto as unconstitutional; Callendar v. State (1917), which made Indiana the first state in the US to exclude illegally obtained evidence from use in trails; and William v. Smith (1921) which successfully overturned the state’s eugenics laws.

17. The governor has 60 days to fill a court vacancy

If a vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court arises, the Judicial Nominating Commission will submit three potential candidates to the governor. The governor must then select one of those three nominees within 60 days. If they fail to reach a decision within that time frame, the decision passes to the chief or acting chief justice.

18. The Indiana Supreme Court is presided over by a chief justice

Ever since the Indiana Supreme Court was established, it’s been presided over by a chief justice. It is the responsibility of the chief justice to supervise the entire judicial branch, including the administration and funding of all state court programs. When the chief justice position is vacated, the most senior member of the court will be requested to serve as acting chief justice on a temporary basis until a new, permanent chief justice is selected. In addition to presiding over the court, the chief justice also serves as the chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission.

19 Loretta H. Rush is the current Indiana Supreme Court chief justice

The current chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court is Loretta H.Rush. Rush was appointed to the court in 2012, and selected as chief justice in 2014. Prior to her appointment to the court, Rush served for 15 years at a Lafayette law firm. In addition to her duties as chief justice, Rush also serves as a member of the Judicial Conference Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction and the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness Executive Committee. She chairs several committees, including the Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana and the Judicial Nominating/Qualifications Commission.

20. The Indiana Supreme Court has a publicly accessible library

The Supreme Court Law Library was created in 1867 when the general assembly transferred the entire collection of law books housed in the Indiana State Library to the court. Over the years, the collection has continued to grow, and it now boasts over seventy thousand volumes. Although the library can be visited in person, it also offers tools to allow people to research its briefs, dockets, legal documents, secondary sources, and other material remotely.

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