The Indiana Supreme Court is the highest court in the state of Indiana. It is responsible for interpreting the State Constitution and Bill of Rights, writing rules for the Court of Appeals, Tax Court, and trial courts, and overseeing the practice of law for lawyers and judges across the state. The Supreme Court courtroom is the only room in the State House that looks much as it did in 1888 when the Indiana State House was built. Most of the furniture in the room is original, and pictures of all but two of the 105 Justices who have served on the court hang on the courtroom walls. The courtroom has recently undergone a facelift so that it may continue to serve as the timeless treasure it is.
We hope that your visit is pleasant and informative.
Indiana's judiciary began under the Northwest Ordinance. While a territory, Indiana's laws were written by a general court and the Governor. In December 1816, Indiana was admitted to the Union, and the Indiana Supreme Court was established. The first Supreme Court met in Corydon, the first state capital. It stayed there until 1825 when the new state capital was moved to Indianapolis.
Today, the Supreme Court is organized according to a 1970 Constitutional Amendment. This amendment changed the organization of the court quite a bit from the 1851 Constitution. The main difference between the original Constitution's Judicial Article and the Amendment is that Appellate Justices are now appointed instead of elected.
The Supreme Court's decisions must be followed by other courts in the state. The court decides on a variety of issues which may affect property rights, personal liberties, and the validity of laws enacted by the General Assembly. However, most cases must begin in local courts. Only after the case is over in the trial court can it be appealed to a higher court, like the Indiana Supreme Court, for review.
The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals are both appellate level courts. Appellate courts review the record of the local trial court and may choose to hear arguments from the attorneys as well. Everyone can file one appeal with the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court does not have to accept all appeals. Appellate courts may either agree with or overrule the decisions of a lower court.
The route to the Supreme Court begins in the local trial courts. Whenever the trial is over, the parties must decide whether they should accept the decision or exercise the right to appeal to a higher court. Unless the defendant receives a sentence of death, or a term of life in prison, all appeals begin in the Indiana Court of Appeals, or the Tax Court in tax-related cases. If either party wishes to challenge the Court of Appeals decision, it asks the Indiana Supreme Court to review the case. All cases appealed in the Indiana Appellate courts are initially processed in the Clerk of Courts office, then proceed to the appropriate court administrator.
The Supreme Court Administrator is responsible for forwarding cases to the Justices. Each Justice casts a vote on whether to accept a case during a weekly conference. Three Justices must vote to grant transfer before the Supreme Court will accept a case. The court is very selective in choosing the cases it reviews.
When the Indiana Supreme Court is asked to consider a case, they review the requesting party's "petition to transfer." Initially, transfers were established as a tool for courts to balance workloads among themselves by transferring cases from one court to another. Granting the petition to transfer is the Supreme Court's selection of a case for review. Once the court has accepted the case, it becomes the final authority on questions of law.
Public Supreme Court proceedings are called "oral arguments," which provide the Justices with the opportunity to ask attorneys questions about the case. Usually, oral arguments last 40 minutes to an hour. The Sheriff of the Supreme Court calls the court to order. Each side has 20-30 minutes to argue. An electronic timer with green, yellow, and red lights keeps track of time for each argument. Typically the appealing party will open the argument, the other side then responds; and finally, the defendant closes the argument.
After an oral argument, the Justices meet in a private conference to take another vote on the outcome of each case. One of the Justices in the majority (those who voted to grant transfer), is assigned to draft the opinion. Once an opinion is drafted, it is sent to the Justices. Each Justice votes on the draft. He or she may agree or disagree with the opinion. A Justice may choose to write a separate concurring or dissenting opinion. The completed opinion, and all papers related to the case are forwarded to the Clerk's office. The opinion is then placed on the court's website and the Clerk notifies the attorneys of the outcome in the case.
The Supreme Court's opinions establish precedent that the Indiana appellate and trial courts are required to follow. The Indiana Supreme Court's opinions are published in bound volumes called the North Eastern Reporter. Opinions are also posted to the Supreme Court website. The website includes information regarding the appellate process, history and origin of the court, biographies of current justices, interactive videos, real time web casting of oral arguments, access to detailed case docket information, and educational resources for teachers.
Please turn all pagers, cellular telephones, cameras or other electronic equipment off during oral arguments. Pictures may be taken when court is not in session.
The Courtroom doors are closed a few minutes before an oral argument begins. If you must leave the courtroom at any time during an argument, please be courteous and do so as quietly as possible. We also ask that you speak softly in the lobby immediately outside the courtroom when court is in session. A video monitor is stationed in the lobby area for real time viewing of oral arguments outside the courtroom.
The courtroom is handicap accessible. Assisted hearing devices are available for the hearing impaired. Please request assisted hearing devices from the courtroom staff.
Supreme Court of Indiana
315 Indiana State House
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Hours: 8:00 am - 4:30 pm