Rhode Island Supreme Court

Coordinates: 41°49′31″N 71°24′25″W / 41.82528°N 71.40694°W / 41.82528; -71.40694
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Rhode Island Supreme Court
Established1747 (colonial form) 1841, (current constitution)
LocationProvidence, Rhode Island
Composition methodAppointment by governor, legislative consent
Authorized byRhode Island Constitution
Appeals toSupreme Court of the United States
Number of positions5
WebsiteOfficial website
Chief Justice
CurrentlyPaul Suttell
SinceJuly 16, 2009

The Rhode Island Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the U.S. State of Rhode Island. The Court consists of a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices, all selected by the Governor of Rhode Island from candidates vetted by the Judicial Nominating Commission. Each justice enjoys lifetime tenure and no mandatory retirement age, similar to Federal judges. Justices may be removed only if impeached for improper conduct by a vote of the Rhode Island House of Representatives and convicted by trial in the Rhode Island Senate.


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 English common law. Parties, however, could still appeal to either the British monarch, English courts or the General Assembly until independence in 1776.[2]

In 1747 the General 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.[2]

In 1798, the General Assembly renamed the Court the "Supreme Judicial Court," and in 1843, the "Supreme Court." The first officially recorded decision was Stoddard v. Martin, 1 R.I. 1 (1828), a case involving gambling on an election. Since 1930, the Court has been located within the Licht Judicial Complex at the base of College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island. 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]

Justice Born Joined Appointed by Law school
Paul Suttell, Chief Justice (1949-01-10) January 10, 1949 (age 74) July 9, 2003 (as Associate Justice)
July 16, 2009 (as Chief Justice)
Donald Carcieri (R) Suffolk
Maureen McKenna Goldberg May 1997 Lincoln Almond (R) Suffolk
William P. Robinson III (1940-01-30) January 30, 1940 (age 83) 2004 Donald Carcieri (R) Boston College
Erin Lynch Prata (1975-05-17) May 17, 1975 (age 48) January 4, 2021[3] Gina Raimondo (D) Catholic University of America
Melissa A. Long 1970 or 1971 (age 52–53) January 11, 2021[4] Gina Raimondo (D) George Mason

Notable cases[edit]

  • Stoddard v. Martin (1828) first case recorded in the official reports of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
  • 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.[5]
  • Angel v. Murray, 113 R.I. 482, 322 A.2d 630 (1974), which was the first case to apply the UCC's reasoning on contract modification to service contracts. The rule states that a contract does not always need additional consideration for modification, provided certain conditions are present.
  • Picard v. Barry Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 654 A.2d 690 (R.I. 1995), a tort case, which is often used as an example of battery in tort textbooks.

The court currently convenes in the Providence County Courthouse

Notable justices[edit]

Chief justices[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. ^ a b RICHMAN, I.B. (1905). RHODE ISLAND. p. 191. Retrieved 2015-09-11.
  3. ^ "RI high court gains first woman of color". WPRO. January 11, 2021. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  4. ^ Gammans, Bay; Wilber, Logan (January 11, 2021). "Melissa Long sworn in as first Black justice in RI Supreme Court". WPRI.com. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
  5. ^ 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 [2]

External links[edit]