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How Does the New Jersey Supreme Court Work?

The New Jersey Supreme Court is the final legal arbiter or the last resort’s court in the state. It has appellate jurisdiction and mostly reviews cases decided initially in a lower court (including the Appellate Division of the Superior Court and trial courts). The Supreme Court passes the final judgment on a case based on justices’ interpretation of the New Jersey and U.S. Constitution, acts of the New Jersey Legislature, administrative regulations of governmental agencies, and the body of common law and treaties. A Supreme Court’s ruling overrides any outstanding declaration on a case. It can only be altered if there is a constitutional amendment or a new Congress act that contradicts it.

The New Jersey legal system processes thousands of cases annually, and litigants who are dissatisfied with a lower court ruling can file an appeal. However, only a handful of these appeals are heard in the Supreme Court. Since 1925, the Supreme Court has exercised “certiorari,” which gives it the discretion to on the cases it reviews. Thus, while a litigant may request an appeal, the Supreme Court justices determine whether to grant the request or not.

To initiate the process, the litigant must file a petition for certification with the Supreme Court. When an appeal request is granted, the Supreme Court issues a writ of certiorari that orders the lower court to send the record to the Supreme Court. However, if the Supreme Court denies certiorari, the decision of the lower court stands. According to a report by the New Jersey Judiciary, there were 1,232 petitions for certification filed in 2018. Of these, the Supreme Court only granted 99 certifications - about 8% of total filings. Under Article V, Section VI of the New Jersey Constitution, the Supreme Court justices only give the review if:

  • The legal issue is one of great importance to the public;
  • The case involves a question arising under the Constitution of the United States or New Jersey;
  • The matter of the case is the subject of discordant Appellate Division judgments;
  • A judge in the Appellate Division files a dissenting opinion;
  • If the case is one involving capital punishment

The New Jersey Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. The process of appointing justices begins when the governor forwards a nomination to the Senate. Under the state’s constitution, the nomination must succeed a 7-day public notice to the Senate. Also, judges nominated for justiceship must have been admitted to the state bar for at least ten (10) years.

Upon confirmation by the Senate, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed to an initial term of seven years. Upon the end of the first term, the governor may reappoint the individual who may serve until age 70, which is the mandatory age for retirement.

Likewise, the appointment of Chief Justice follows the same procedure as the other justices. The nomination and senate confirmation appoints a Chief Justice. The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the New Jersey court system and oversees the state’s courts’ management. The Chief Justice also serves an initial term of seven years before being reappointed for life or removed.

Apart from not being reconfirmed by the governor, Supreme Court Justices in New Jersey may also be removed in one of three ways under Article VI, Section VI, Paragraph 3 of the state’s constitution.

  • Removal from office: In cases of misconduct or bad behavior, the majority of the New Jersey General Assembly or Senate may initiate removal proceedings. Likewise, the governor may also file a complaint with the Supreme Court to start the removal, or the Supreme Court may file a motion for removal on its own accord. An advisory committee on judicial conduct, composed of private citizens appointed by the court, reviews Supreme Court justices’ allegations. The committee will conduct an investigation and may dismiss the charges or recommend a formal hearing. Depending on the hearings’ results, the nature of the allegations, and other circumstances, a guilty justice may be reprimanded, censured and suspended without pay, or removed from office. 
  • Impeachment: Impeachment of a Justice happens when most members of the New Jersey General Assembly votes for impeachment. The impeachment also requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
  • Incapacitation: This form of removal happens when the Supreme Court certifies to the governor that a judge is so incapacitated that the individual cannot substantially perform his/her judicial duties. The governor appoints a three-person commission to confirm the certification, and upon the commission’s recommendation, the governor may retire the justice from office.

The New Jersey Supreme Court holds sessions at the state capital, and interested public members may attend court sessions. But, as seats are limited, visitors must line up for admission into the courtroom. Access is on a first-come, first-in basis. The New Jersey Supreme Court is located at:

Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
25 West Market Street, P. O. Box 970
Trenton, NJ 08611

To access the New Jersey Supreme Court Docket online, interested public members may visit the appellate decision portal. The online docket shows the date the Supreme Court granted certification, the date argued, and the date the Supreme Court ruled. Likewise, interested public members may access opinions published by the New Jersey Supreme Court as far back as one year ago. Other oral arguments, opinions, case, and docket information are accessible through the New Jersey Law Research Guide.

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