Supreme Court of Nevada
|Supreme Court of Nevada|
|Country||Nevada, United States|
|Location||Carson City, Nevada|
|Authorized by||Nevada State Constitution|
|Decisions are appealed to||Supreme Court of the United States|
|Number of positions||7|
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.
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.
Despite a tremendous population boom in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Nevada has never 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, as a result of a powerful cultural tradition among Nevada residents of keeping the state government and their tax burden as small as possible. 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, which is the case today in Virginia, West Virginia, and New Hampshire. However, Nevada has guaranteed its residents a right to appeal since statehood, thus resulting in the present crisis. 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 the state's early days, Nevada courts frequently looked to California courts for guidance, but they have since attempted to pull away from that early position in line with the dramatic divergence of California and Nevada's political cultures. Unfortunately, Nevada's judicial congestion has severely impaired the development of a full-fledged body of Nevada case law which Nevadans would ideally be able to rely upon for most legal questions without having to look to California to fill in the gaps.
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. 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.
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. However, Question 2 was narrowly rejected by 53% of the 670,126 votes cast, meaning that the Court's ongoing caseload crisis will continue for the foreseeable future.
|Name||Elected/Appointed||Term expires||Appointing Governor|
|Michael Douglas||2004||2018||Governor Kenny Guinn|
Gambling on Trial - Anderson v. McGill Club: A Housewife’s Lament
In the 1928 McGill case, Gladys Anderson asked the Court to hold the McGill Club legally liable for the damage done to her marriage by her husband's chronic gambling and for the money her husband had lost at the McGill Club playing stud poker. Calling the lawsuit "a novelty in both form and substance," Chief Justice Sanders summed up the Court's feelings on the matter in one sentence: "A husband is exposed to temptations, enticements and allurements of the world, which easily withdraw him from the society of his wife, and the wife had reason to expect all of these things when she entered the marriage relation, and her right to society had all these conditions."
More pragmatically, Justice Sanders also wrote that the consequence of ruling in favor of the plaintiff would create "a most fruitful source of litigation" and the court ruled for the McGill Club although it was not until 1931 that the legislature legalized gambling in Nevada.
The Last Stage Robbery - State v. Kuhl: Palm Prints on Trial
The notability of the opinion in the Kuhl case results from its being the first decision in which a palm print was used for identification. It occurred in a case involving the last stagecoach robbery in America. On December 5, 1916, the stagecoach from Rogerson, Idaho, was three hours late to Jarbidge, Nevada. A search party found the stagecoach with its driver dead, the mail sacks slashed open with a knife, and the $4,000 in gold double eagles that the stagecoach had been carrying missing. A local miner, Ben Kuhl, was soon identified as a suspect and brought to trial. The evidence against Kuhl was largely circumstantial and included a letter from the mail pouch smeared with a bloody palm print. Experts convinced the jury that the print was made by Kuhl, and on October 6, 1917, the jury returned a verdict of murder. As for the $4,000 in gold coins, the money was never recovered and legend has it that the treasure remains buried somewhere in the vicinity of Jarbidge.
The Chairs - State v. Davis: Standing Room Only
Whether or not justice can be accomplished in a courtroom where there is no place to sit was the question facing the Court in 1902 when Samuel Post Davis, controller for the State of Nevada, refused to pay the bill for chairs the Supreme Court had ordered. The Court found itself in the ironic position of deciding whether it had the authority to order the chairs which were, by then, already installed.
The Court cited its inherent powers and ordered Davis to pay for the furnishings immediately from the balance in an account appropriated by the legislature for the payment of current expenses.
- See Nevada Supreme Court History at official court Web site.
- 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.