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The Delaware Supreme Court is Delaware’s highest court. Established in colonial times as the highest appellate court, it lost much of its power after the 1792 constitution reorganized the judicial system. The 1831 constitution abolished the court and placed its functions in the newly created Superior Court. The current Supreme Court was reestablished under the 1897 constitution, to assume the duties and functions of the former Court of Errors and Appeals.

When the 1897 constitution reestablished the Supreme Court as the state’s highest court, it was to consist of all the state judges who did not sit on the case in a lower court. The Chancellor was the presiding officer unless he was unable to attend or was disqualified. In his absence, the Chief Judge or the senior associate judge presided.1 The membership of the Court was changed in 1951 when it was mandated that only three judges would sit in the Supreme court with a chief justice presiding.2 In 1978 two additional judges were added to this court with the stipulation that no more than three of the judges be of the same political party. Three justices are needed to have a quorum, although all justices must sit in criminal cases when the death penalty is involved.3 Justices are appointed for twelve-year terms by the Governor, with the approval of the Senate. Court is held in Dover although the judges maintain offices in their county of residence.4

Until 1951 the Kent County Prothonotary was also the Clerk of the Supreme Court, and their records were kept in his office.5 The clerk is specifically charged with keeping a judgement docket and two indices to it.6 For many years the Sheriff of Kent County was required to attend court sessions and execute the court’s processes and orders.7 The Clerk of the Supreme Court is now appointed by the Court and has “custody of all records, books, and papers belonging to the Supreme Court” which are required to be kept in the capital.8

As the State’s highest appellate court, the Supreme Court has the authority to issue writs of error to the Superior Court in civil and criminal cases and determine finally all matters in error from the Superior Court. It also receives appeals from the Superior Court in cases involving election offenses. The Supreme Court receives appeals from the Court of Chancery and the Orphan’s Court and has the power to determine finally all matters of appeal. The Supreme Court may issue writs of prohobition, quo warrants, certiorari, and mandamus to any of the inferior courts and can issue temporary writs or orders in cases pending on appeal or on writ of error to protect the rights of those involved.9 The Supreme Court also has the jurisdiction to hear and determine questions of law certified to it by the Court of Chancery, Superior Court, Orphan’s Court, or the U.S. District Court where urgent reason exists for immediate determination.10

The justices of the Supreme Court have been given appointive powers throughout their history, in addition to a clerk and other court officials, judges have been appointed county probation officers, members of the State Board of Parole, a deputy administrator to assist in the supervision of Justices of the Peace, and Justice of the Peace constables.11 Another responsibility of the Court is to provide legal opinions whenever requested by the Governor.12

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1 1897 Constitution; 21 D.L., Ch. 296

2 48 D.L., Ch. 109

3 61 D.L., Ch. 533

4 1897 Constitution; 10 Del. C., @ 102

5 30 D.L., Ch. 217; George S. Messersmith, The Government of Delaware (New York: American Book Co., 1908), pg. 178; 10 Del. C., @ 121.

6 48 D.L., Ch. 258

7 21 D.L., Ch. 117; 48 D.L., Ch. 258

8 21 D.L., Ch. 117

9 1897 Constitution; 48 D.L., Ch. 109

10 1897 Constitution; 64 D.L., Ch. 180

12 26 D.L., Ch. 263; 33 D.L., Ch. 220; 54 D.L., Ch. 344; 64 D.L., Ch. 271

rlg; revised August 4, 1988