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August 22, 2023

Bolts provides guide to "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About State Supreme Courts"

At Bolts, Daniel Nichanian and Quinn Yeargain have put together a remarkable set of materials focused on state supreme courts which, as they explain in this overview accounting, serve as "battlefields for some of today’s most pressing issues, from abortion rights and climate to extreme sentencing and ballot access."  Here is more from the overview, with a snippet highlighting why criminal justice fans should care a lot about these matters:

Most obviously, these courts have become an urgent route for liberal litigants in light of conservatives’ durable majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.  State courts get to interpret state constitutions, which often protect rights and liberties more expansively than the U.S. Constitution, and they’ve proven friendly to arguments that wouldn’t succeed in federal court.  The right has also focused on them to expand its control over the judiciary.

But these courts have even more clout than you may realize.  They can shape virtually any policy area that state and local governments touch.  They’re likely to have the final word on all cases filed in state courts, and many play additional roles that extend far beyond deciding cases, from crafting the rules of criminal trials to taking part in redistricting and certifying elections.

And yet these courts’ exact powers and procedures often remain well under the radar.  What justices do and how they’re selected varies widely from state to state, and it always differs from the federal system.  Most states elect justices but have their own twist on electoral rules, while some courts are shaped by commissions largely out of public view — and nearly all serve some idiosyncratic function with little scrutiny.  These distinctions all influence how each court acts and what might be levers of change.

Today Bolts is publishing a new state-by-state resource that plunges into the weeds of these critical judicial powers. For each of 54 courts — accounting for the highest court in all 50 states, two of which have two separate high courts, plus Puerto Rico and D.C. — we cover every nook and cranny of how they are organized, what functions they serve, and rules for judicial selection.....

If you care about criminal justice: State courts shape the rights of people accused of crimes at every stage of a criminal case, and some courts have pushed back more than others against invasive police practices or extreme sentences.  Many supreme courts also write their state’s rules of criminal procedure — lengthy codes that govern how cases unfold, from the issuance of warrants to the calculation of sentences, and some courts even set bail schedules.  This is an often-overlooked but potent policymaking role.  In 2021, for instance, Arizona’s supreme court eliminated peremptory strikes — the practice by which attorneys can eliminate someone from the jury pool without stating a cause — throughout its state. 

August 22, 2023 at 09:17 PM | Permalink


Was mostly accurate on my state -- Missouri -- other than misstating the status of the Sentencing Advisory Commission. We still have one, but it is limited now to compiling and reporting data. It no longer has the power to create a system of recommended sentence. (Even when it had that power, the recommendations were purely advisory and the trial courts did not have to justify deviations from the recommended sentences.)

Posted by: tmm | Aug 23, 2023 10:39:37 AM

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