Indiana Supreme Court
History and Origins
 

The Supreme Court was established in 1816 when Indiana became a state. During territorial days, a General Court of three Judges had served and they, with the Governor, enacted the laws of the Indiana Territory. The new Court first sat at Corydon on May 5, 1817, and consisted of three Judges appointed by the Governor to seven-year terms "if they should so long behave well."
State House in Indianapolis
State House in Indianapolis, 1888 to the present.
Indiana State Library, Indiana Division.

By two early decisions, it enforced the new Constitution's prohibition against slavery and involuntary servitude, wiping out the last vestige of legal bondage in Indiana. The seat of State Government was moved from Corydon to Indianapolis, and the Supreme Court commenced its first term in the new State Capitol on May 2, 1825.

Governmental problems involving principally the bonded debt of the State prompted the calling of a Constitutional Convention in 1850 at which the delegates also decided upon a reorganization of the Supreme Court. By the new Constitution, adopted in 1851, the Judges were made subject to election by the people, and their number would be "not less then three, nor more than five judges." Their terms were to be "for six years, if they so long behave well."

Shortly, the General Assembly acted to prescribe that four Judges would serve. Thus, four Supreme Court Judges, representing four geographic districts but elected by statewide ballot, began their terms on January 3, 1853. The Court caseload grew to such an extent that the General Assembly acted to increase the number of Judges to five in 1872.

The business of the Court continued to increase and, in 1881, the General Assembly authorized the appointment of five Commissioners to assist the Judges. But this plan was unsatisfactory since litigants complained that their cases deserved the attention of Judges rather than Commissioners. It was also in 1881 that, at a special election, an Amendment to the Constitution was ratified authorizing a more permanent solution.

Pursuant to that constitutional amendment, the General Assembly in 1891 created an Appellate Court of Indiana consisting of five Judges elected from five geographic districts. That Court's jurisdiction was limited to appeals on certain minor classes of cases. Over the years, the Appellate Court evolved into a panel of eight Judges who were elected to four-year terms.

In 1970, the Indiana Constitution established the Appellate Court as a Constitutional Court and gave it the name "Court of Appeals of Indiana." The number of judges was also increased to nine. Since that time, the burdgeoning caseload of the Court of Appeals has led the General Assembly to increase the number of judges to twelve in 1978, and to fifteen in 1991. For more information about the Court of Appeals, visit its website at www.in.gov/judiciary/appeals.

Previous Justices
For a complete list of all Indiana Supreme Court justices since 1816, including biographies, that you can sort alphabetically, chronologically, or by length of tenure, visit the Courts in the Classroom website.

 
Last modified on Wednesday, September, 12, 2007