Today's Supreme Court

Today's Supreme Court has as its basis a Constitutional Amendment which was ratified by the people in 1970 and which took effect January 1, 1972. The Amendment represented an almost complete rewriting of the 1851 Constitution's Judicial Article. It removed members of the Supreme Court from partisan elections and established a process for voter confirmation before retention in office.

The present Court is served by a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices. However, the Constitution now provides that the number of Associate Justices may be increased to as many as eight by action of the Legislature. The incumbent Justices are subject to statewide yes-or-no votes on the question of their retention in office. With approval by the electorate, they begin 10-year terms, and are subject to identical retention votes at 10-year intervals in the future. Under current law, retirement is required at the age of 75 years.

Should vacancies occur on the Court or if a Justice is rejected at the polls, the Constitution requires that a seven-member Judicial Nominating Commission recommend to the Governor three qualified persons for each vacancy. The Governor must make his appointment from the three, and that person serves as a Supreme Court Justice for a minimum of two years before becoming subject to a retention vote at a General Election. If approved, he or she begins a 10-year term.

To be eligible to serve on the Supreme Court, a person must have been admitted to the practice of law in Indiana at least 10 years or have served at least five years as a trial court judge. Under Public Law 427 of 1971, candidates for appointment presented by the Judicial Nominating Commission must be the "most highly qualified candidates." Considerations include the candidate's legal education, legal writings, reputation in the practice of law, physical condition, financial interests, and activities in public service.

The 1970 Constitutional Amendment also established the intermediate appellate court, which had been in existence since 1891 as "the Appellate Court of Indiana," as a constitutional court and gave it a new name, the Court of Appeals of Indiana. The Amendment empowered the General Assembly to establish as many geographic districts for that Court as it determined necessary, but prescribed that each Court of Appeals district consist of three judges. The General Assembly in 1971 created three such districts, then increasing the number of judges serving that Court from eight to nine; in 1978 a fourth district was created, thereby increasing to twelve the number of judges on that Court. In 1991 the number of judges was increased to fifteen with the creation of a fifth district.