How Does the Georgia Supreme Court Work?
Article IV of the Georgia Constitution creates the Supreme Court and makes it a part of Georgia’s unified judicial system. The Georgia Supreme Court is the State’s apex court, which means the court has the last word in any case brought before it. However, a person may appeal a decision of the Georgia Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court if the case involves federal constitutional law.
The Supreme Court has the responsibility to set standards for the admission of attorneys to practice in the State of Georgia. To this point, the court established the Office of Bar Admissions. According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, the Supreme Court has the authority to:
- Exercise appellate jurisdiction
- Hear facts and examine witnesses in non-appellate cases
- Grant any writ needed to carry out any objective of its organization or to compel lower tribunals or officers to obey the court’s order
- Establish, alter, and amend its rules of practice and to oversee the admission of attorneys to the practice of law
- Hear and decide on all cases that come before it, whether civil or criminal; and to grant judgments of reversal or affirmance, or any other decree, direction, or order
- Appoint officers of the court
- Commission any individual to execute an order made by the court
- Punish a person for contempt by inflicting imprisonment of not more than ten days or a fine as high as $500, or both
The Georgia Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review decisions from the lower trial courts in criminal and civil cases. It has exclusive jurisdiction over matters involving the constitutionality of state statutes and election contests. The court also has jurisdiction over the following types of cases:
- Appeals from decisions of the Court of Appeals
- Cases involving title to land
- Criminal cases in which the death sentence was imposed
- Cases involving wills
- Equity cases
- Habeas corpus cases
- Cases involving extraordinary remedies
- Divorce and alimony cases
The court may also answer law questions from the United States Supreme Court, any District Court or Court of Appeals of the United States, or any appellate court in Georgia. It can also review cases in the Court of Appeals, which are of great public importance by certiorari. Note that the Georgia Supreme Court does not conduct trials in its appellate jurisdiction. However, the court holds oral arguments three to four times a month.
Before a decision brought before the Supreme Court can be reversed, most justices must concur to the judgment of reversal. If the Supreme Court Justices are evenly divided, then the decision of the lower court stands.
There are nine Georgia Supreme Court judges. These judges are chosen using the nonpartisan system of electing judges. This means that the candidates are selected regardless of party affiliation. None of the prospects are elected as representing a political party. The judges serve for a term of six years and until the successors are elected and qualified.
When there is a temporary vacancy in the office of a Georgia Supreme Court judge, the State Governor appoints an interim justice for the duration of the vacancy. The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission presents at least five options for each vacancy unless there are fewer qualified persons. The Governor selects the interim Justice from these options, although there is no mandatory obligation to do so. This Commission consists of eighteen members appointed by the Governor.
Where the parties to a case desire a full bench, and one or more of the Supreme Court justices are providentially unable to sit, the remaining Justices may appoint a judge of the Superior Court to sit in the place of the absent Justice. The Justices also have the power to appoint law assistants to serve the court. The law assistants must be licensed to practice law in the State.
A person who has graduated from law school but is not yet a member of the bar may be appointed as a law assistant. In such cases, the law assistant must be admitted to the bar within one year of the appointment. Note, law assistants must attend all court sessions, if so ordered by the Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court is elected from among the State’s justices by the justices on a rotating basis. This is the chief administrative officer of the Supreme Court. To be eligible for the position of a Supreme Court judge, a person must:
- A resident of Georgia
- Licensed to practice law in Georgia for nothing less than seven years
A Supreme Court judge may be removed in any of these two ways:
- Conviction by a two-thirds vote of the Georgia State Senate after being impeached by the Georgia House of Representatives
- The Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission may also remove, retire, or discipline a judge. However, the Supreme Court must review any removal and retirement decisions.
A Georgia Supreme Court justice may be removed for any of these reasons:
- Willful misconduct while in judicial office
- Persistent and deliberate failure to perform the duties of a justice
- Habitual intemperance
- Conviction of a crime that involves moral turpitude
- A conduct that is detrimental to the administration of Justice and brings the judicial office into disrepute
The Georgia Supreme Court has a Clerk whose duty is to keep the records of the court’s proceedings. Other responsibilities of the Clerk of the Georgia Supreme Court include:
- Issuing and signing all writs and processes of all descriptions issued under the authority of the Supreme court
- Collecting all costs due on cases in the court and paying it over to the Office of the State Treasurer
- Administering oaths and affidavits in all cases
The Georgia Supreme Court docket system contains details about cases, decided or pending at the court. Interested persons may find the Supreme Court cases on this system through the court’s website. Users can access cases docketed within the last three terms of the court. Enter either part of the style, the last name of one of the attorneys, or the case number.
Note, Supreme Court case numbers start with the letter “S.” The year the case was calendared follows the letter, while another alphabet specifying the type of appeal follows the year. After providing the required information, results matching the provided details are displayed on the page.
Click on the highlighted case number of the relevant record for more information on the case. The docket search results provide the following details on the Georgia Supreme Court case:
- Case number
- Case description
- Style, i.e., the name of the parties
- Docket date
- Oral argument date
- County location
- Date of disposition
- The names and contact information of the attorneys
Interested persons may also contact the Office of the Clerk of Court for Georgia Supreme Court case records. Note that the Clerk’s Office does not accept requests sent by email. Contact the Clerk’s Office either by telephone on (404) 656–3470, by fax on (404) 656–2253 or by mail to:
Supreme Court of Georgia
Nathan Deal Judicial Center
330 Capitol Avenue, S. E.
1st Floor, Suite 1100
Atlanta, GA 30334
For walk-in requests, visit the address stated above during business hours from Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.