Nebraska Supreme Court

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Nebraska Supreme Court
Seal of Nebraska.svg
State Seal of Nebraska
Established 1854
Country Nebraska Nebraska, United States United States
Location Lincoln, Nebraska
Authorized by Nebraska Constitution
Decisions are appealed to Supreme Court of the United States
Website Official Website
Chief Justice
Currently Mike Heavican
Since 2006

The Nebraska Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. state of Nebraska. The court consists of a chief justice and six associate justices. Each justice is initially appointed by the governor of Nebraska; using the Missouri Plan, each justice is then subject to a retention vote for additional six-year terms. The six justices each represent a Supreme Court district; the chief justice is appointed (and retained) at-large.

Unlike most other states, with the exception of North Dakota, the Nebraska Supreme Court requires a supermajority of five justices of the seven to rule unconstitutional a legislative provision (the 48 others states require a simple majority).[1]

The court’s justices[edit]

Selection of justices[edit]

The court consists of a chief justice and six associate justices. The six justices each represent a Supreme Court district. If a position becomes vacant, the judicial nominating commission, made up of four lawyers and four non-lawyers, holds a hearing to select potential candidates. The commission then submits two names to the Nebraska Governor, who then determines the replacing judge. If the Governor does not follow through with this responsibility within 60 days of receiving the nominees, the responsibility then goes to Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. To retain the office, a judge must run in a retention election in the first general election that occurs after more than three years of serving in the office. Additionally, the judge must run every six years to retain his seat. When a judge runs for retention in office, the question presented on the voters’ ballots states: “Shall Judge___________be retained in office?” If the judge receives less than 50% of the affirmative vote, the judge is not retained. There is no mandatory retirement age for Nebraska judges, but they are granted retirement at age 65 or earlier, if it is due to disability.Supreme Court of Nebraska Courts Guide

Qualifications[edit]

Applicants for positions on all levels of Nebraska courts must meet a number of requirements in order to be appointed to office. Each person must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 30 years of age, and have practiced law a minimum of five years in the state of Nebraska. The person must also be currently admitted to practice before the Nebraska Supreme Court. For the Nebraska Judicial Nominating Commission manual, click here.

Current justices[edit]

Current members of Nebraska Supreme Court are:

Name Elected/Appointed Term expires District Appointing Governor Appointing Governor's Political Affiliation
Chief Justice Mike Heavican October 2006 January 2017 Dave Heineman Republican
Stephanie F. Stacy August 2015 January 2019 District 1 Pete Ricketts Republican
Lindsey Miller-Lerman September 1998 January 2020 District 2 Ben Nelson Democrat
William B. Cassel April 2012 January 2017 District 3 Dave Heineman Republican
Max J. Kelch February 2016 January 2019 District 4 Pete Ricketts Republican
Jeffrey Funke June 2016 January 2019 District 5 Pete Ricketts Republican
John Wright February 1994 January 2017 District 6 Ben Nelson Democrat

Chief justice[edit]

Mike Heavican is the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court. He was appointed to the court by Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, and assumed office as the court's presiding justice on October 2, 2006. He was retained in 2010. The Chief Justice is appointed (and retained) at-large.

Former justices[edit]

A list can be found here.

Salaries[edit]

As of 2010, the Associate Justices and Chief Justice earn $142,760 annually. National Center for the State Courts, Salary Comparisons, Nebraska

History of the court[edit]

1850s to 1970s[edit]

Nebraska’s original Supreme Court, referred to as the Territorial Supreme Court, was established following the Kansas-Nebraska Act in May 1854. Fifteen male judges comprised the bench of the Territorial Supreme Court. During the seventy-one years between 1867, when Nebraska became a state, to 1938 a total of thirty-seven judges sat on the Nebraska Supreme Court. The original total of a bench of fifteen was reduced to three. The three Supreme Court judges also served simultaneously as district court judges at the time of Nebraska’s statehood. The Nebraska constitution was then amended in 1908 to include a bench of six associate justices and one chief justice. The chief justice position would be held by the justice with the least amount of time remaining in his term. The judges were originally chosen by partisan election. In 1908 this was later amended to a nonpartisan election. Currently the Nebraska Supreme Court justices are elected by way of a modified Missouri Plan.[2]

In the Nebraska Supreme Court’s early years there were no regulations as to what cases could be appealed and heard by the court. Due to the lack of regulations the Supreme Court’s docket became overloaded. As a solution the Nebraska Supreme Court was allowed to elect commissioners to assist with the workload. Originally three commissioners were elected, one from the Democratic Party, one from the Republican Party, and the last a member of the Populist Party. The three commissioners would serve a term of three years. In 1901 the commissioners numbers increased from three to a total of nine. Six of the nine commissioners would serve a one-year term and three would serve a two-year term. The commissioners sat in groups of three. This resulted in the creation of four appellate courts, the fourth being the Supreme Court. Select District Court justices were allowed to sit on cases heard by the Supreme Court under four stipulations found in Article V, Section 2 of the state’s constitution. If the court was sitting in two separate five judge divisions, if the constitutionality of a statute was in question, an appeal case of a convicted homicide, and lastly when a decision by a division of the Nebraska Supreme Court was under review.[3] ) In 1977 a general guideline pertaining to the format of a court report was drafted and released to the court’s reporters. This guideline would assure that all reports were structured in the same manner. Even with the efforts to increase the time efficiency of the Supreme Court the docket remained over filled. It was proposed to increase the existing bench of seven judges to a bench of nine. The amendment was opposed but revisited later in 1977. It was in this year that the Supreme Court Judges received a salary of 39,750 dollars, an increase from previous years.[4]

Boyd V. Nebraska ex Rel. Thayer[edit]

The case Boyd V. Nebraska ex Rel. Thayer was heard by the Supreme Court in 1891. The case was the result of a Gubernatorial Election in which Omaha Democrat James Boyd claimed victory. There were accusations by the Populist party regarding fraudulent votes in the favor of Boyd. John M. Thayer, the existing governor of the state, refused to give up his office. Thayer questioned the legitimacy of Boyd’s citizenship claiming he was not eligible for office. Boyd’s father, an immigrant, obtained citizenship after his son reached the age of majority. Thayer filed a quo warranto in the Nebraska Supreme Court. The court ruled that the father’s citizenship did not apply to Boyd. The Nebraska Supreme Court restored Thayer to office. Boyd appealed after the ruling. The case progressed to the United States Supreme Court. The court ruled that Boyd was a citizen.[5]

Chief Justice Robert G. Simmons[edit]

Chief Justice Robert G. Simmons was born in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska in 1891. He attended Hastings college and the University of Nebraska’s College of Law. His early career paths included Scotts Bluff County Attorney, a lieutenant in the army, and was elected to congress as a Republican. On November 8, 1938 Simmons defeated former attorney general C.A. Sorenson and was elected Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court. The Simmons era heard several cases involving capital punishment. The court issued death warrants for four murders. The four death sentence’s method was the electric chair. One of the four executions in the Simmons Era was Charles Starkweather. In 1951 the Simmon’s court heard the case of Drabbels v. Skelly Oil Co. This case addressed the legitimacy of a murder charge in regard to an unborn child. The court unanimously ruled that a child who is still within the womb of the mother has no claim to life. Chief Justice Simmons retired on January 2, 1963 after serving on the bench for slightly over twenty five years. The longest term a chief justice has served in Nebraska’s Supreme Court.[6]

Road to the Supreme Court[edit]

There are six different types of courts in Nebraska. The six are the Municipal Courts, County Courts, Workmen’s Courts, District Courts, Juvenile Courts, and the Supreme Court. The lower level includes the County Courts and the Municipal Courts. These two have jurisdiction of misdemeanor cases, the preliminary hearings of felony cases, and civil cases totaling to less than five thousand dollars. The District Court hears felony cases, civil cases totaling to more than five thousand dollars, and appeals from the county and municipal courts. The cases appealed in the District, Workmen’s, and Juvenile courts are then heard by the Nebraska Supreme Court. A case may be appealed in the Nebraska Supreme Court and advanced to the federal level.[7]

Controversy[edit]

Over the last few years, there has been a growing sense that the Nebraska Supreme Court is biased against fathers.

In August 2016, the Supreme Court agreed with a trial court that rejected a fit father’s attempt to remove his two teenage daughters from the custody of their mother and new stepfather, a registered sex offender who served four years in prison for molesting a teenage stepdaughter from a previous relationship. Before marrying the stepfather, the mother had a live-in boyfriend who molested another of her teenage daughters. The court reached this result despite a law that presumes it is not in the best interest of a child to live in the same home as a registered sex offender.[8]

In September 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the recommendations of the Child Support Advisory Commission to lower Nebraska’s child support guidelines. The Advisory Commission found that our guidelines are among the highest in the entire United States and far higher than justified by our cost of living. The Advisory Commission recommendations tried to correct this mistake by making our child support guidelines more consistent with Nebraska’s cost of living and guidelines in surrounding states.[9]

In May 2014, the Supreme Court issued the latest in a series of paternity fraud cases. Nebraska is in a small minority of states that deny defrauded men the ability to recover when they are falsely told they are the father of a child. Most states that have addressed this issue, including Iowa, reached the opposite conclusion and give defrauded men the ability to recover money that was stolen from them.

This latest paternity fraud case was especially bad because the child was removed from the mother and placed with the real biological father. As a result, the defrauded man must pay child support to the real biological father. Even though these facts were undisputed, the Supreme Court made the defrauded man pay child support for a child all parties agree isn’t his.[10]

In January 2013, the Nebraska Administrative Office of the Courts published a study on child custody awards in Nebraska. This study found mothers were awarded sole or primary custody in 72 percent of cases, while fathers were awarded sole or primary custody in 13.8 percent. Joint custody with shared residence was awarded in only 12.3 percent of cases.

The study also found noncustodial parents have access to their children about 17 percent of the time on average, which is only half the minimum parenting time recommended by mental health research.

In response to this study, a group of attorneys and state senators asked the Supreme Court to address these issues by adopting uniform, statewide parenting time guidelines. The Supreme Court rejected the group’s petition less than two weeks after it was filed.

To make matters worse, numerous judges, including Chief Justice Mike Heavican, lobbied against legislative bills that attempted to address these issues. This caused the Omaha World-Herald to criticize the judges for violating the constitutional separation of powers.

Research shows that children who grow up in fatherless homes are more likely to live in poverty, use drugs and alcohol, commit suicide, be sexually active, engage in juvenile delinquency, have long-term physical and mental health problems, have lower life expectancies and have lower educational attainment.[11]

Notable cases[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.newsweek.com/why-nebraskas-supreme-court-decision-might-be-bad-news-keystone-xl-298205
  2. ^ Hewitt, J (2007). Slipping Backward: A History of he Nebraska Supreme Court, University of Nebraska Press.
  3. ^ Hewitt, J (2007). Slipping Backward: A History of he Nebraska Supreme Court, University of Nebraska Press.
  4. ^ Dunlevey, J. E. (1976). "The Courts of Nebraska: A Report on Their Structure and Operation", Office of the State Court Administrator.
  5. ^ Hewitt, J (2007). Slipping Backward: A History of he Nebraska Supreme Court, University of Nebraska Press.
  6. ^ Hewitt, J (2007). Slipping Backward: A History of he Nebraska Supreme Court, University of Nebraska Press.
  7. ^ Dunlevey, J. E. (1976). "The Courts of Nebraska: A Report on Their Structure and Operation", Office of the State Court Administrator.
  8. ^ Bureau, Joe Duggan / World-Herald. "Nebraska father loses effort to get his girls out of sex offender's home". Omaha.com. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  9. ^ Franklin, Robert. "Nebraska Supreme Court Rejects Modest Child Support Reform". nationalparentsorganization.org. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  10. ^ Star, Lori Pilger | Lincoln Journal. "Man who isn't biological dad responsible for child support, court finds". JournalStar.com. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 
  11. ^ "State Supreme Court bias hurts children, costs taxpayers". The Grand Island Independent. Retrieved 2016-11-17. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°48′29″N 96°41′59″W / 40.808090°N 96.699587°W / 40.808090; -96.699587