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Minnesota Agencies

Information on Minnesota State Agencies, Boards, Task Forces, and Commissions

Compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library


Supreme Court

Also known as:
Minnesota Supreme Court
Active dates:1858 -
Authority:
Const. Art. VI
Function:

The Minnesota Supreme Court is, in effect, the final arbitrator of the constitutional rights of the people of the state of Minnesota. The Supreme Court is responsible for the regulation of the practice of law and for judicial and lawyer discipline. Additionally, as the highest court in Minnesota, it promulgates rules of practice and procedure for the legal system in the state.

History:

The Minnesota Supreme Court, established by the territorial act (codified in Laws 1849-1858 c56), heads the judicial system as the highest court in the state and is supported by district, probate, and various lower courts. The three territorial justices were appointed in 1849 by President Zachary Taylor. At statehood in 1858, the voters elected three justices for seven-year terms, as specified in the state constitution (Minn. Const. Art. 6).

The number of justices on the court has been increased to nine (Laws 1973 c726 s1), and all of the justices now serve six-year terms (Const. Amend. to Art. 6 s3, 1885). ["Chief justice and 6 associate justices"--Minn. Stat. 1992 480.01] Current statutes and rules governing the court are found in Chapter 480 and appendices of Minnesota Statutes. Justices are elected by the voters of the state on separate non-partisan ballots. Intra-term vacancies are filled by appointment by the governor. A candidate must be a lawyer and licensed to practice law in Minnesota, a qualified voter in the state, and at least twenty-one years of age upon assuming the office of justice (Minn. Stat. 202A.22).

The court's primary purpose is to hear appeals from individuals, companies, and state and local governments that are dissatisfied with the decisions of lower courts or hearing boards, such as the Tax Court. Case records and briefs are filed, then reviewed by the court commissioner before a hearing is set. In most civil cases, a prehearing conference is held between the lawyers involved and one of the justices before an oral hearing is scheduled. The justice recommends whether an oral hearing is in order. At the hearing, the case is presented by the lawyers to the nine justices, who then confer to come to a decision. The justice assigned to the case prepares an opinion, and circulates it to the other justices for their approval. If there is any disagreement, a dissenting opinion must be written by those opposed. No decision is final until it is agreed upon by a majority. The final decision can uphold, reverse, or modify the lower court ruling; and if reversed or modified, the case must often return to the lower court from which it was appealed for a new trial. About half of the court's cases come as special term appeals, often emergency measures, to order a lower court to some action or to prevent a lower court from ordering an action that might be harmful in the appellant's view. Besides hearing appeals, the court also oversees the judicial system in the state and regulates the practice of law. The court is authorized to execute its own decisions, and may prescribe or modify rules of practice for all of the courts. It is empowered to interpret and apply the state constitution and U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court is the only avenue of appeal beyond the court's decision.

The court must consult an advisory committee, consisting of eight bar members and at least two lower court justices, before adopting any rules. The court may solicit recommendations concerning rules from the judicial council, consisting of various justices from state courts and members of the bar. Rules become effective at a time fixed by the court, and opinions are published in the official reports of the court and as appendices to the statutes. Opinions are also published in various legal and daily newspapers, and in the Northwestern Reporter, which contains supreme court cases from Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The administrative staff of the court consists of a clerk to maintain journals, judgment books, and other records; a reporter to report the decisions of all cases to be printed and published; and other necessary personnel. The justices appoint a librarian to maintain and direct the State Law Library. The court appoints a Board of Law Examiners to administer rules relating to general requirements and examinations of applicants to the bar, and to admit successful applicants to the practice of law. The court monitors attorneys through yearly registration, required[s] continuing education credits, and investigations of complaints of unethical or incompetent practice. The court may suspend or remove attorneys or judges who have violated ethical standards.

Membership:

The Supreme Court shall consist of one chief justice and six associate justices, who shall hold one term of court each year, at the seat of government, commencing on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January, with such continuations or adjournments thereof during the year as may be necessary for the dispatch of the business coming before the court.

Notes:

See Judicial Appointments Notebooks, Volumes 1, 2 & 3, Legislative Library Reference collection, KFM5925.5.A6 J83, for information, news articles, and appointments relating to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Record last updated: 02/06/2019
 

Additional print information on this group may be available in the Library's collection of agency notebooks. Please contact a librarian for assistance. The Minnesota Agencies database is a work in progress.

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