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

Nevada Supreme Court

If you’ve ever been to the state of Nevada, you’re probably already well aware of the fact that they have a tendency to do things a bit differently there than in virtually any other location throughout the United States. It’s an atmosphere that genuinely speaks to some and for others, it seems to repel them faster than practically anything else could. This leads a lot of people to want to know more about the way that certain things are operated there, namely the Nevada Supreme Court. Is it really that much different from the courts located in other states? Perhaps it’s just as unique as the state itself. If you’re curious, here are 20 things about the Nevada Supreme Court that might help you answer those questions.

1. They once presided over the Provisional State of Deseret

It might be hard to believe, but that is how this particular area was referred to in its very early days. The interesting thing to note here is that this was long before Nevada was even declared a territory. In fact, it was before it even became part of Utah territory. At the time, it was an area that was just large enough that it was obvious that some type of government was needed, yet it was so rough and tumble that no one could really agree on what to do or how to go about it. As such, they came up with a name and appointed a few justices, but there wasn’t a great deal else that happened during this time.

2. They were instrumental when Nevada was part of Utah Territory

As previously mentioned, this area eventually became grouped into a larger geographical area and became known as part of Utah territory. The problem was that this created a rather large geographic area. To make things even more complicated, that particular area’s government was about as far away as it could possibly get from what is currently the state of Nevada. It essentially meant that even though there was a government that existed on paper, there was no government for any practical purposes in the area. There was just too much area to cover and not enough people to do it.

3. They exist because of the native residents of Washoe

Most people agree that if it hadn’t been for these residents, there would have been no government to speak of in the area for years, perhaps even decades. They pushed for a government of their own and since the Utah territorial government didn’t really want to deal with this particular area to begin with, they got very little pushback when it came to changing things up.

4. The locals there wanted their own government

There’s no doubt that the local individuals who lived and worked in what is now the state of Nevada wanted their own government. They didn’t like the idea of allowing Utah Territory to decide what was best for them in the first place, nor were they fond of the idea that they were so far away that there was essentially no government to speak of in the first place. From the beginning, they had become determined that they were going to create something that involved a workable government and they continued to push for that until things started to change in their favor.

5. The institution officially became part of the Nevada Territory in 1861

In 1861, the area officially became known as the Nevada Territory. It was only then that any type of the government resembling that of a state government began to take shape. This was also when things really started to take shape concerning the court system there.

6. At the time, there were three justices appointed to oversee it

When the Nevada Territory first became officially recognized, there were only three justices that were appointed to take care of things. Even though the geographic area involved had been drastically reduced from the time that it was grouped in with the Utah Territory, the very thought that only three justices could handle everything in such a rough and tumble area almost seems laughable in today’s world. Back then, they were probably doing the best they could with the individuals who were willing to take the job in the first place.

7. They were all appointed by Abraham Lincoln

Every one of the justices who worked there were directly appointed by Lincoln. It seemed that he wanted to create a viable state government in the area just as badly as the locals who had been pushing for it for years. As such, he wasn’t willing to allow anyone else to handle the appointments, hand-picking each justice himself.

8. Justices in the area didn’t have it easy

These individuals might have been hand-picked, but there was nothing easy about serving as a justice in the area. It practically served as the poster child for the wild west, making it almost impossible for those involved to govern with any real level of accuracy. To make matters worse, the weather in the area was about as brutal as you could ever imagine. It was hot, dusty, and there was very little water available. It’s no wonder the justices had such a difficult time during those early years.

9. Lincoln even appointed backups in case the primary justices quit

It would seem that Lincoln himself knew exactly what was in store for the justices when he first appointed them. He even made it a point to assign backups for each justice in the event that one (or all) of them either quit or lost their lives as they tried to enforce a state government in an area where a lot of people weren’t in favor of having law and order of any kind.

10. They all quit within three years of being appointed

It probably won’t surprise you all that much to learn that within just three years of being appointed by Lincoln, every single one of the justices (and their backups) quit. They all seemed to be quite disillusioned with the idea of ever creating a viable state government in the area. In fact, many of them had enough long before the time that they actually quit. While some of them stayed longer than others, there wasn’t a single original justice left by 1864.

11. Incidentally, Nevada became a state the same year they all quit

Oddly enough, the timing of the justices all leaving coincided almost exactly with the area officially becoming a state. It’s not believed that this was the reason they quit. It’s actually far more likely that they did so because they had tried desperately to enforce the court system there for the previous three years, largely to no avail. They probably didn’t believe that there would be any appreciable level of success with the state government either, so instead of staying on, they made the decision to leave while they still could.

12. State officials then decided that all justices should have six-year terms

It seems almost diabolical, but the state made the decision that all of their justices would serve six-year terms almost immediately. Despite the fact that they couldn’t keep a single individual appointed to the position, they still decided on term limits that were actually longer than any of the previous justices had ever served. In fact, the new limits effectively doubled the amount of time that a justice would serve in the area.

13. The court had five justices by 1967

By 1967, the court had five justices instead of three. This marked the first time that the number of justices within the state had increased. It was also a move that made a lot of common sense, as more people were moving into the area. This increase in the local population made it almost necessary for the court to add justices in order to keep up with the accompanying workload.

14. They added two more 30 years later

They also added two more justices in 1997. This brought the total number of justices to seven, more than doubling the number of justices that had originally been appointed to the area. Since then, the number has remained unchanged.

15. They created their own Court of Appeals in 2014

Although they haven’t made any changes to the number of justices appointed in the last several years, they have made some other sweeping changes. As recently as eight years ago, they created their very own Court of Appeals. This section of the Nevada Supreme Court was added just to hear cases that involved lower Appellate Courts throughout the state. This was largely done to help the court system there handle the ever-increasing caseload. Since may of those cases involved hearing appeals, officials there felt it was necessary to do this in order to keep the state’s Supreme Court from drowning in these types of cases.

16. They only heard 82 cases during their first three years

It’s worth noting that the entire Nevada Supreme Court only heard 82 cases during the first three years that they existed on an official basis. Part of the reasoning for this sparse number involves the fact that there weren’t that many people living or working in the area at the time. This was during the early 1860s when everything in the area was still wide open. The other reason for the lack of activity was the fact that while there were many locals who truly wanted a government of their own, there were also many others who didn’t. As a result, the justices had an exceptionally difficult time upholding the law, enforcing rulings or even hearing cases at the time.

17. By 2019, that number increased to 3,153

Obviously, things have changed a great deal since then. Just three years ago, the caseload had increased to more than 3,000 cases to be decided by the court. Clearly, that’s not as many as some of the state court systems, but it is a significant number for this particular area. Even when cases involving appeals are taken out of the mix, the state’s court system still had to decide more than 2,000 cases in a single year.

18. All information about cases decided when Nevada was a territory are lost

It may not surprise you to learn that there is very little information about any of the initial 82 cases that were heard by the court during their earliest years. After all, law and order wasn’t exactly the normal process of things back then. Any information about the cases was either lost or was simply never recorded to begin with.

19. Today, people can read about their cases on an annual basis

“Nevada Reports” now includes information about every single case the court is involved with. Anyone who is interested can typically access this information by visiting almost any library. The information is published annually and bou nd in book form. As long as you know the case number and/or the date a particular case was decided, you can find the information you need.

20. The court maintains information about every justice who has ever served

Of course, the court now maintains meticulous records. However, they also have information about every single justice that has ever served, even those who were appointed before the area was recognized as a state. You may not be able to find information about the court’s earliest cases, but they do have at least some information available about each of the justices.

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