Supreme Court of Nevada
|Supreme Court of Nevada|
Supreme Court of Nevada, Carson City, Nevada
|Country||Nevada, United States|
|Location||Carson City, Nevada|
|Authorized by||Nevada State Constitution|
|Decisions are appealed to||Supreme Court of the United States|
|Judge term length||6 years|
|Number of positions||7|
|Jurist term ends||2020|
There are seven Justices of the court, who are elected to six-year terms in officially nonpartisan elections. The Governor appoints Justices in the case of a vacancy. The most senior justice becomes Chief Justice for a two-year term.3
The main constitutional function of the Supreme Court is to review appeals from the decisions of the district courts. The Supreme Court does not pursue fact-finding by conducting trials, but rather determines whether legal errors were committed in the rendering of the lower court's decision. The court can affirm, modify, or set aside the decision on appeal. The court must consider all cases filed.4
When Nevada established its statehood in 1864, three justices were elected to the Supreme Court for a term of 6 years. This was increased to five justices in 1967, and to seven justices in 1997.5
Despite a population boom in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Nevada has not established an intermediate appellate court, like the vast majority of U.S. states. Attempts to create one all failed at the ballot box in 1972, 1980, 1992, and 2010. The result has been extremely severe congestion at the appellate level, as all appeals must be processed through the state supreme court. The alternative would be to have no right to appeal, since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that appeal is not a constitutional right,6 which is the case today in Virginia, West Virginia, and New Hampshire. Nevada, however, has guaranteed its residents a right to appeal since statehood, resulting in the present crisis.7 From the 1980s to the present, Nevada state supreme court justices have been burdened with the highest per-justice caseloads of any state supreme court in the United States.
In January 1999, to bring its soaring backlog under control, the Supreme Court of Nevada adopted for the first time a measure that was frequently used by the Supreme Court of California prior to the creation of the California Courts of Appeal in 1904 (and for a few years afterward). The Court divided itself into two three-justice panels which rotate membership every 12 months. The majority of cases are now heard and decided by the three-justice panels, with one panel in Carson City and one panel in Las Vegas. The Chief Justice focuses on administrative duties, but frequently sits on the panels whenever one of the panel justices has to recuse because of a conflict of interest, and also helps to decide the few cases which are still heard en banc by all seven justices.8
The advantage of this system, of course, is that it is faster to negotiate a consensus on the key points of a majority opinion among three instead of seven justices. The disadvantages are that the two panels might inadvertently issue conflicting majority opinions; and that an appellant might be ruled against by two justices on a panel of three, who might have been a minority (that is, 5–2) if the case had been heard by a full court of seven justices.
This system has persisted since 1999 to the present, while the Court continues to lobby the people and the legislature of the state of Nevada to create an intermediate appellate court. The Legislature eventually authorized the latest attempt to appear on the November 2, 2010 ballot. Question 2, however, was narrowly rejected by 53% of the 670,126 votes cast.9 The question will once again be on the ballot in November 2014.10
- Smith v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 270 n.5 (2000) ("[t]he Constitution does not . . . require states to create appellate review in the first place"); M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 519 U.S. 102, 110 (1996) ("the Federal Constitution guarantees no right to appellate review").
- Nevada. (2000). Practice before the Supreme Court of Nevada: an overview, Carson City, Nev: Nevada State Supreme Court Clerk's Office.
- The Nevada State Supreme Court. (1986). Carson City, Nev: Administrative Office of the Courts.