The Supreme Court of New Jersey

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Information and Biographies of the Supreme Court Judges of New Jersey

Have you ever asked a parent or a friend to check your school work to make sure you followed the directions? If so, then you know a little bit about the work of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Most people have heard of the United States Supreme Court. It is the highest court in the country. Some people do not know that every state also has its own Supreme Court. It reviews cases that are appealed from the lower courts in the state. Because it is the highest court, it is sometimes called “the court of last resort” in New Jersey.

The Justices of the Supreme Court

The seven people on the New Jersey Supreme Court are called justices. There is one chief justice and six associate justices. They were each chosen by the governor to serve on the Supreme Court. The New Jersey State Senate must confirm the governor’s choice.

Like all judges in New Jersey, the justices are lawyers. By going to law school and working as lawyers, they learned about the law. They need to know the law to do the important work of hearing and deciding very difficult and complicated court cases. Knowing the law is good, but justices must also be good at reading, writing, listening, talking and thinking.

The Justices review decisions the other courts have made.

The Supreme Court decides all kinds of cases. It decides criminal cases, when a defendant has been accused of breaking the law. It decides civil cases, when someone seeks money or wants the courts to protect their rights in some other way. It also decides family cases, such as divorces and cases involving child custody.

The Supreme Court does not review every single case from the lower courts.

Have you ever been tempted to ask one parent for something even though the other parent said no? Everyone who loses a court case would like to go to a higher court and have the decision overturned.

Most Supreme Court cases begin in a lower court called the Superior Court. There was probably a trial, with a judge and maybe even a jury. People who believe that the Superior Court didn’t make the right decision in their case can appeal the decision in the Appellate Division. There, two or three judges will review the case to see if the decision is correct based on the law.

Sometimes, however, a court case involves a new problem. There are some times that the Supreme Court needs to hear a case:

  1. The case might be about a new law and people aren’t sure how that new law affects their situation.
  2. The two or three Appellate Division judges do not agree with each other on how a case should be decided.
  3. Maybe there have been two court cases that seem alike. One case turned out one way, and the other case turned out another way, so people are not sure which case to follow.
  4. Sometimes the case is so important that it could affect many of New Jersey’s citizens for years to come.

Those are all reasons why the Supreme Court of New Jersey might decide that it needs to review a case and issue a decision.

The Supreme Court must give permission for someone to file a case.

A petition for certification is a request from the losing party, or side, in a lower court case for the Supreme Court to review the decision. If a petition is granted, the Court will hear the case. If a petition is denied, the Court has decided that the case is not something that it should review. The Supreme Court is asked to review more than 1,000 cases each year. It only grants petitions for about 100 cases. The other cases do not get a review.

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments and both sides get to speak.

The Court hears cases in Trenton, the state capital. Before each case, the justices read the briefs. The briefs are essays that explain why the Court should agree with them in the case. Even though “brief” means “short,” a Supreme Court brief can be very long.

The Court meets in the courtroom to listens to arguments. An argument does not mean people are yelling. In a court argument, lawyers for each side give all the reasons why their view of the case is the right one. The justices also ask questions about the case. They need to make sure they understand what the lawyers are trying to say in order to be fair.

After arguments, the justices will meet to talk about the case with each other. Each justice will share his or her ideas about how the case should be decided. The Chief Justice will ask one of the other justices to write an opinion. The opinion explains all of the facts about the case. It also talks about the laws that the Court used to guide them in their decision.

Even though “opinion” sounds like the decision is not final, it is. The people in the case must do as the Supreme Court says. The opinion is read by other judges and lawyers. It is used as a guide in other court cases.

What if the justices do not all agree how a case should be decided? Sometimes the justices who disagree write a dissent. The dissent explains why they disagree with the rest of the Court. The dissent does not change the case. Only the majority opinion, signed by at least half of the justices, must be followed.

The New Jersey Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court are different.

Each state has its own constitution and its own laws. Each state has its own court system and its own supreme court to hear cases about state laws. The U.S. Supreme Court reviews cases about the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court cannot review cases about the New Jersey state constitution or New Jersey state laws.

By reviewing decisions made by the lower courts, the Supreme Court helps the people of New Jersey live safely together under the laws that were made to keep us safe and to protect our rights as citizens.

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