Rhode Island Supreme Court

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Rhode Island Supreme Court
Seal of Rhode Island.svg
Established 1747 (colonial form) 1841, (current constitution)
Country Rhode Island Rhode Island, United States United States
Location Providence, Rhode Island
Composition method Appointement by governor legislative consent
Authorized by Rhode Island Constitution
Decisions are appealed to Supreme Court of the United States

The Rhode Island Supreme Court, court of last resort in the U.S. State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The Court consists of a chief justice and four associate justices.


In 1747, the Rhode Island General Assembly authorized the creation of a Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and General Gaol Delivery, consisting of one chief justice and four associates, all serving one year terms. The 1747 enactment replaced an earlier appeals court of the same name, which had been composed of the governor or deputy governor and at least six of the elected "assistants," which dated to 1729 under the same name and the composition dated back to the 1663 charter when it was known as the "General Court of Trials." This court had replaced an even earlier court formed under the Charter of 1644, a 1647 enactment of a code of laws, and a 1651 amendment creating appellate jurisdiction.[1]

Most of the judges during the 18th century were laymen, merchants or farmers and did not possess formal legal training, and therefore the court did not explicitly follow British common law. Parties, however, could still appeal to either the British monarch, English courts or the General Assembly until independence in 1776.[2]

Peleg Arnold, Chief Justice 1795–1812

In 1747 the Assembly appointed the first Chief Justice, Gideon Cornell, who was a judge, farmer, and merchant, and the second, Joshua Babcock, a Yale educated physician. Stephen Hopkins, later signatory of the Declaration of Independence, served as the third Chief Justice from 1747 to 1755.[3]

In 1798, the Assembly renamed the Superior Court "The Supreme Judicial Court," and in 1843, "The Supreme Court." The first officially recorded decision was Stoddard v. Martin (1828), a case involving gambling on an election. Since 1930 the Court has been located within the Licht Judicial Complex. Until 1994 the General Assembly sitting with both houses in "Grand Committee" chose the Supreme Court justices without the governor's consent. In 1994 after a wave of corruption scandals, citizens amended the Rhode Island Constitution to allow the governor to choose Supreme Court nominees from a list of candidates approved by a non-partisan nominating committee. Both houses of the General Assembly still must approve any nominees.

Current Justices[edit]

The current Justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court are:

Notable Cases[edit]

Rhode island supreme court 2009j.JPG
  • Trevett v. Weeden (1786), (involving the legitimacy of paper money) was one of the first cases where a state court held a legislative act unconstitutional, setting precedent for Marbury v. Madison.[4]
  • Picard v. Barry Pontiac-Buick, Inc. (1995), a tort case, is often used as an example of battery in tort textbooks.
  • Angel v. Murray (1974) first articulation of the UCC rule that a contract does not always need additional consideration for modification.

Notable Rhode Island Supreme Court Justices[edit]

Chief Justices of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations[edit]

A few noted Chief Justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court include:



  1. ^ Gail I. Winson, "Researching the Laws of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: From Lively Experiment to Statehood" pg. 19–22 [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ Warren, Charles. History of the Harvard Law School and of Early Legal Conditions in America. New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1908. Three volumes, pg. 66 [4]

External references[edit]