How Does the Nebraska Supreme Court Work?
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the state of Nebraska’s judicial system. This court is a court of last resort, and it has final appellate jurisdiction over all criminal and civil matters heard in Nebraska. The Nebraska Supreme Court is also authorized to be the original court where a case is heard under certain circumstances, and it has original jurisdiction over the following types of cases:
- Civil cases where the state of Nebraska is involved
- Matters relating to revenue
- Matters involving writs of mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus
- Election contests involving state officers that are not members of the legislature
In addition to its judicial functions, the Nebraska Supreme Court is responsible for regulating the practice of law in the state of Nebraska. As such, this court has some administrative duties and responsibilities, which include:
- Handling the admission of attorneys into the state’s bar association
- Disciplining attorneys that are found in violation of the judicial rules and ethics of the Nebraska judicial system
- Monitoring the appointment of attorneys to serve on state committees on discipline and professional responsibility, and also on local committees of inquiry
The state of Nebraska’s judicial court system is divided into six appellate districts. The Supreme Court comprises a Chief Justice who represents the entire state, and six associate justices representing each of the appellate districts. Justices are appointed through a selection process that involves the state governor and the Nebraksa’s judicial nominating commission. The judicial nominating commission comprises four lawyers elected by the Nebraska State Bar Association, four non-lawyers appointed by the state governor, and the Chief Justice or an associate justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, who also serves as the chairperson of the commission. When there is a vacancy in the court, the commission issues a notice of the public hearing to the public announcing the vacancy.
The judicial nominating commission can seek out and recruit individuals that it feels are qualified to apply for the vacant position. A public hearing is held not later than 60 days after the vacancy was announced. All applications for the post are to be submitted at least 21 days before the hearing. Also, the applicants’ names are released to the public at least ten days before the public hearing. During this hearing, the public may provide testimonies on the individuals that have submitted applications for the vacant position. The commission may also conduct private interviews for these applicants, at its own discretion. After the public hearing and any interviews have been held, the commission holds a closed meeting to deliberate and carry out a vote. All voting members of the commission must be present during this deliberation.
Note that the chairperson of the commission is not a voting member. Applicants that receive at least five votes will have their names submitted to the state governor, who then appoints one of these nominees as a justice of the Supreme Court. The governor is required to make this appointment not more than 60 days after receiving the names of the nominees. If the governor cannot do so before the stipulated time frame, then the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice will make the appointment from the list of submitted nominees. Newly appointed justices that wish to remain in office are required to stand in a retention election three years after their initial appointment, and every six years after that. Individuals that wish to be appointed as a Nebraska Supreme Court Justice must be:
- Citizens of the United States that are at least 30 years old;
- Residents of the state of Nebraska for at least three years before their appointment; and
- Licensed to practice law in the state.
These individuals must have also practiced Nebraska state law for at least five years either as lawyers or judges. Nebraska does not have a mandatory age of retirement for justices; however, justices may retire at the age of 65 or for reasons of health or disability.
The Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction over all matters brought before it. This means that the court has the authority to choose the cases it wishes to hear. However, this discretion does not include matters that involve the death penalty, sentences of life imprisonment, and constitutional questions. When the court accepts an appeal, it reviews the case’s records, starting from the trial courts to the Court of Appeals. Appealing parties are required to submit briefs containing any necessary documents related to the case.
In some cases, the appealing parties are also allowed to present oral arguments. Note that, when deciding on appeals, the Nebraska Supreme Court does not admit new testimony or witnesses. There is no set time frame during which the Supreme Court must issue a decision on a case. Once the court issues a decision, a petition for a further review of the decision can be filed by an aggrieved party, not more than ten days after. If the court accepts this petition, then the case is reviewed again, and its decision on the second review is considered final. If the petition is denied, then the original decision on the case is considered the final decision.
The Nebraska Supreme Court provides interested persons with online access to published opinions, archived oral arguments, and a court calendar that has details of both upcoming and past Supreme Court events. Interested parties can also contact the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals via (402) 471–3731 or in person at Room 2413 of the Nebraska State Capitol Building, which is located at:
1445 K Street
P. O. Box 98910
Lincoln, NE 68509
This address is also where the Nebraska Supreme Court sits to hear oral arguments and decide appeals.