20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Kentucky Supreme Court

Kentucky Supreme Court

Kentucky, officially known as the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is one of the 50 U.S. States situated in the east South-central region. According to Nations Online, the State borders Tennessee to the South and Virginia to the Southeast. In terms of the justice system, Kentucky has two appellate courts; the court of appeal, which hears the appeals first, and the Supreme Court, the highest court in Kentucky. So, what do you know about the Kentucky Supreme Court? Here are 20 things you didn’t know about the Kentucky supreme court.

1. Kentucky Supreme Court Was Founded In 1975

The supreme court of Kentucky was established in 1975 after a constitutional amendment that released the Kentucky Court of Appeals from the overload of handling all the appeals in the State. Before creating the Kentucky Supreme Court, the highest court in the State was the Kentucky Court of Errors and Appeals.

2. Kentucky Supreme Court Is the State’s Last Resort

The Kentucky Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in the country and leads the judicial branch of the State government. In other words, the supreme court is the final interpreter of State law. It handles major cases that the court of appeal has not solved. The justices listen to appeals of decisions from the lower courts as a panel and issue the final decision.

3. The Supreme Court Has Seven Judgeships

The Kentucky Supreme Court consists of seven judges. As of September 2021, one court judge was appointed by a Democratic governor, a Republican governor appointed two judges, and the other four were initially appointed in a non-partisan election. The current Kentucky Supreme Court judges include; John D. Minton, Lisabeth Tabor Hughes, Laurance B. VanMeter, Robert Conley, Michelle M. Keller, Christopher Nickell, and Debra Hembree Lambert. If one judge withdraws from a case due to personal interest or so, a special judge is appointed to fill in the position to solve the case. Also, the seven justices are seated in order of seniority, similar to the U.S. supreme court. The chief justice sits at the center chair, the deputy chief justice sits to his right, the second in seniority to the left, and the alternate rest right and left.

4. John D. Minton, Jr Is the Current Chief of The Kentucky Supreme Court

The current chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court is John D. Minton. Normally, the Chief Justice is chosen by their seven colleagues and serves a four-year term. John D. Minton. Jr was first elected as a judge on the Supreme Court of Kentucky in 2006 and reelected to another eight years term in 2014. His fellow seven justices elected him for a 4-year term as chief justice in 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020. Minton. Jr is only the second chief justice in Kentucky to be chosen to serve for four terms. The Bowling Green Native is committed to transparency and has successfully transformed how the courts carry out their business during his administration, such as moving from paper to electronic records.

5. Lisabeth T. Hughes Is the Current Deputy Chief Justice

Lisabeth T. Hughes is the deputy chief justice of The Kentucky Supreme Court. She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2007 and then twice reelected from the fourth Supreme Court District, Jefferson County. Lisabeth T. Hughes has served almost fourteen years on the Supreme Court, three years as a judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and about 8-years as a judge of Division 3, Jefferson Circuit Court. The deputy chief justice proudly resides in Princeton, Kentucky, and has been a Louisvillian for more than forty years.

6. The Kentucky Supreme Court Has Seven Districts

Each of the seven justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court represents a district in Kentucky State. The Chief Justice represented the first district in Missouri. The others include; Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. This way, all residents from each district can vote on who they want to represent on the bench through the non-partisan election.

7. Kelly Stephens Is the Clerk of The Kentucky Supreme Court

Every court has a clerk, so you probably wonder who the Kentucky Supreme Court’s current clerk is. Here you have it; Kelly Stephens is the Supreme court clerk. She was permanently appointed to the position in May 2020 by the Supreme Court justices after being appointed as an interim clerk on February 1, 2020. As a court administrator and clerk of the Supreme Court of Kentucky, the responsibilities of Kelly Stephens include overseeing case management and filing for the commonwealth’s highest court. She resides in Knott County, eastern Kentucky, currently residing in Georgetown.

8. The Court Is Situated in The State Capitol Building, Frankfort, Kentucky

Frankfort is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The city is popular for having one of the most elegant Capitol buildings. The Kentucky Supreme Court courtroom is situated on the second floor of the Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort. The offices of the Supreme Court justices and other court personnel are also located on the second floor of the capitol building. The Kentucky State Capitol building was built in 1910 by Frank Mills Andrews, a distinguished architect.

9. Kentucky Supreme Court Justices Are Elected in Non-partisan Elections

Out of the seven Kentucky Supreme Court justices, three are appointed by the Kentucky Governor, while four are elected in non-partisan elections. This is a selection procedure in which judges are appointed through elections where they are listed on the ballot without indication of their political association. The people elect the judges, and the candidates are listed on the ballot with a label indicating their party affiliation. 13 States used this process at the supreme court level as of June 2021.

10. The Seven Justices of The Supreme Court Serve an 8-Year Term

Another fact that you don’t know about the Kentucky supreme court because these seven justices of the supreme court are elected to serve eight years’ terms in a non-partisan election. The judges must run for election if they wish to serve subsequent terms.

11. The Court Handles All Appeals Involving the Death Penalty, Life Or 20 Or More Years of Imprisonment

As the highest court of the State, the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Supreme Court is to handle all the appeals that involve imprisonment for twenty years or more, life imprisonment, or the death penalty. All these appeals must go directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Cases that involve the death penalty, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for twenty years or more go directly from the circuit court level, where the cases are tried, to the Supreme Court for review as a right bypassing the Kentucky Court of Appeals. All the other appeals are taken to the lower courts and are only allowed to be listened to by the supreme court if the Court of Appeal gives consent.

12. A Kentucky Supreme Court Judge Must Be a Resident of The Represented District for A Minimum of Two Years

As earlier Stated, each of the seven supreme court judges represents one district. Another thing that you didn’t know about the Kentucky Supreme Court is that for the judge to qualify for the position, they must have been a resident of the represented district for a minimum of two years. Also, the judge must be a U.S. citizen and licensed to practice law for a minimum of eight years.

13. A Nonpartisan Election Has Been Set for November 8, 2022

The terms of the current four elected Kentucky Supreme Court justices will expire on January 1, 2023. This means the four seats will be up for grab very soon. Hence, a non-partisan election will be held on November 8, 2022, and the outgoing justices must participate in the non-partisan election to remain on the bench. Justices might opt not to stand for election. The elected justices whose terms are expiring include; Michelle Keller, Lisabeth Tabor Hughes, Christopher Nickell, and John D. Minton, Jr. this list is subject to change if justices retire or are appointed.

14. The Governor Appoints a Successor in Case of a Midterm Vacancy

A midterm vacancy can arise on The Kentucky Supreme Court justices either because one of the justices dies or resigns. In this case, the governor appoints a successor from a list of three names offered by the Kentucky Judicial Nominating Commission. If the term filled by the appointee expires at the next election, the appointment is for the remainder of the term. If the term doesn’t expire during the next election and the election is more than three months away, the appointee is needed to run for election for the remainder of the term. If no term is left, the election is for the full term.

15. Kentucky Supreme Court Allowed Guns on University Grounds in Vehicles (2012)

One of the notable cases by the Kentucky Supreme Court was done in 2012 when the court ruled that colleges and universities cannot enforce the bans on guns on campus grounds if the gun is stored in a car. The ruling drew criticism from Kentucky universities, with seven institutions filing briefs supporting the University of Kentucky. That ruling was based on the State laws that bar organizations from barring gun owners from carrying firearms in their vehicles.

16. William E. McAulay, Jr Was the First African-American to Serve in The Kentucky Supreme Court

The Kentucky Supreme Court operates on fair and justice principles and does everything to include people from all ethnicities. On this note, William E. McAnulty, Jr was the first African-American to be appointed as a judge on the Kentucky Supreme Court. The State’s former Kentucky governor, Ernie Fletcher, appointed the judge. He served in the supreme court from 2006 until his demise in August 2007.

17. Sara. W. Combs Was the First Woman to Serve in The Kentucky Supreme Court

Today, the entire world is working towards gender equality and giving women equal opportunities to compete with men. The Kentucky Supreme Court has not been left behind and has seen several women serve as judges on the court. Sarah W. Combs was the first woman to serve as a judge on the Kentucky Supreme Court to open the account. She was appointed to the court in 1993 by former Governor Brereton Jones. Sara W. Combs was also the first woman to be appointed as the Kentucky Court of Appeals chief justice from 2004 to 2010.

18. The Kentucky Supreme Court Establishes Rules for The Court of Justice

The Kentucky Supreme Court is responsible for establishing rules of practice and procedures for the Court of Justice, including the conduct of attorneys and judges. A judge is expected to uphold and endorse the judiciary’s integrity, independence, and objectivity.

19. Kentucky Supreme Court Invalidated the Criminalization of Same-Sex Sodomy In 1992

While the Kentucky Supreme Court has not generated much notable jurisprudence, its notable decision invalidates same-sex sodomy criminalization as a State equal protection violation. Based on the Kentucky Constitution, the decision came when the federal equal protection precedent held that the federal constitutional right of privacy wasn’t drawn in laws punishing homosexual sodomy. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its laws and made a decision mirroring the ruling of the Kentucky supreme court regarding sodomy criminalization.

20. Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Announces Retirement In 2023

As earlier Stated, the current chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court is John Minton, Jr. The chief justice recently announced that he would not be seeking re-election next year. According to WKU Public Radio, John Minton has announced plans to retire after thirty years of serving on the supreme courtroom bench. Although his term doesn’t expire until January 1, 2023, he says he announced his plan to allow those considering running for the high court sufficient time to decide. The voters will decide their successor in a non-partisan election in November 2022, and the seven justices will choose who among them will be the chief justice.

Bottom Line

We hope now you know several interesting facts about the Kentucky Supreme Court. The court has seen a massive improvement in the justice system since being established in 1975 and continues to enact and review contradicting laws of the State. Do you have any questions or additional facts you know that we haven’t mentioned? Feel free to comment below.

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