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Supreme Court of Illinois - RG 901 | Illinois State Archives

Name: Supreme Court of Illinois - RG 901

The Supreme Court of Illinois is the state's highest tribunal. It derives its basic functions from courts of the territorial period: the General Court, 1809-1814, and the Supreme Court of the Illinois Territory, 1814-1818. The Supreme Court exercises appellate jurisdiction except in those cases in which it exercises original jurisdiction. The 1818 Constitution assigned original jurisdiction to the Supreme Court in cases relating to revenue, cases of mandamus, and in impeachment cases required to be tried before it. Original jurisdiction for impeachment was withdrawn under the 1870 Constitution. The Supreme Court's original jurisdiction now extends to such cases as those involving habeas corpus, prohibition, redistricting of the General Assembly, and the ability of the Governor to serve or resume office. The 1970 Constitution also reduced the instances in which direct and mandatory appeals may be made to the Supreme Court.

The number of justices sitting on the Supreme Court has varied from three to nine according to constitutional provision and statute. Under the 1818 Constitution the General Assembly elected the justices by joint ballot. Under subsequent constitutions and statutes the justices were popularly elected from geographical districts.

The 1818 Constitution required the Supreme Court to conduct its business at the seat of state government. In order to make the Supreme Court more accessible to the people of Illinois, the 1848 Constitution divided the state into three nearly equal Grand Divisions in each of which the Supreme Court held its annual session on a rotating basis. In 1897 the three Grand Divisions were consolidated into one Grand Division and the Supreme Court was required to sit at Springfield (L. 1897, p. 200).

At various times during Illinois' first constitutional period the General Assembly required the justices of the Supreme Court to serve simultaneously as circuit court judges. This function ceased in 1848. In 1877 the appellate courts were created and the General Assembly authorized the Supreme Court to appoint appellate court judges from existing circuit court judges (L. 1877, p. 69). The procedure for selecting appellate court judges was not modified until 1963 when the positions became elective (L. 1963, p. 2643).

In 1927 the General Assembly authorized the Supreme Court to appoint two Commissioners of the Supreme Court to prepare reports and make statements of facts and opinions on any legal questions involved in cases which the full Supreme Court assigned to them (L. 1927, p. 392). The Supreme Court then could either approve, modify, or reject such reports. Approved reports became the official opinion of the Supreme Court and carried the same authority as an opinion written by one of its justices. The General Assembly renewed this provision in 1929 and 1931; but when it failed to do so in 1933 the office ceased to exist.

In 1833 the General Assembly authorized the Supreme Court to keep a record of licensed attorneys for the State of Illinois and to remove or disbar any attorney for misconduct in office (L. 1833, p. 99). Prior to disbarment, however, the attorney had to receive a written notice from the Clerk of the Supreme Court specifically stating the grounds of the complaint or charges against him and in turn he was allowed to present evidence for his justification. In 1933 the Supreme Court modified this disbarment procedure by authorizing specified committees of the Illinois State and Chicago Bar Associations to serve as Commissioners of the Supreme Court. The sole function of these Commissioners, as distinct from the Commissioners mentioned above, is to receive and investigate complaints against attorneys and then to issue subpoenas and conduct hearings. If, at the conclusion of the hearings, action by the Supreme Court is recommended, the Commissioners report their conclusion of law and facts. The attorney charged with misconduct, after being duly notified of the report, may file with the Supreme Court exceptions, briefs, abstracts, and other records which tend to support his exceptions. The final judgment on disbarment remains with the Supreme Court.

In 1879 the Supreme Court was given authorization to make rules regulating judicial practice in Illinois, a function which continues in force. The amended Judicial Article of 1964 and the 1970 Constitution each name the Supreme Court as the administrative office of the Illinois judicial system.

One of the most important employees of the Supreme Court is the Clerk whose duties remain essentially the same as those first assigned in 1819. The Clerk attends the Supreme Court's sittings personally or by deputy, issues writs, keeps the records and seal of the Supreme Court, and performs other duties assigned by the Supreme Court or by statute. Under the 1818 Constitution the Clerk and his assistants were chosen by the Supreme Court. In 1848 the Office of Clerk became elective, remaining so until the 1970 Constitution again made the position appointive.

The Supreme Court also employs a court reporter to print and publish its decisions, a marshal (previously designated sheriff and then bailiff) to maintain order and decorum, a librarian to administer the Supreme Court library, and an administrative director and staff to assist the Supreme Court in the general administration of the Illinois judicial system.

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