Legalese — The Supreme Court of Georgia

I recently had the pleasure of attending a dinner held in honor of the 175th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Georgia.  Honestly, until I received the invitation to the dinner, it hadn’t occurred to me that the Supreme Court wasn’t as old as the State of Georgia.

As it turns out, originally, there were just trial courts.  This led to a number of inconsistent results.  Reasonable minds can differ (and unreasonable minds, more so) and so judges would end up interpreting the laws differently.  You could take a case with an identical set of facts to trial in one part of the state and end up with a completely different result in another part of the state.

In order to make things consistent, in 1845, the Supreme Court was created.  Finally, there was an appellate court whose interpretation of the various state laws held sway over all the other courts in the state.  This made the rule of law something much easier to count on and much easier to follow.  Rules are only good when we all agree what they mean.  And when we don’t agree, we have to agree on who the ultimate authority is.  Finally, we had an ultimate authority in the interpretation of laws.

Of course, thing have changed over the past 175 years.  We have an interim appellate court – the Georgia Court of Appeals – and the number of Supreme Court Justices has changed over time as well. 

A lot of times, people think they can just bring their grievances to the Supreme Court.  That’s not true.  The Georgia Supreme Court (and the United States Supreme Court, for that matter) is what’s called a “court of limited jurisdiction.”  That means that you can only go there for some things, and sometimes only if they give you permission.  The things you can potentially bring to the Supreme Court are:

  1. When you are dealing with the constitutionality of an issue, either the Georgia Constitution or the United States Constitution, and/or a treaty;
  2. Cases dealing with the contest of an election;
  3. Death penalty cases;
  4. Habeus corpus cases; or
  5. When the Court of Appeals certifies a case to the Supreme Court or if the Court of Appeals is equally divided.

Generally speaking, you can’t just start out in the Supreme Court.  You have to start out in a regular trial court and then make your way to the Supreme Court.  When you get to the Supreme Court, you have to show the Supreme Court what the trial court (or Court of Appeals) did wrong.  This is called an ‘enumeration of error.’  Things that are discretionary, like who was more believable at trial, or who was the more ‘fit’ parent are rarely considered a legal error unless they are completely beyond the bounds of believability.  Errors for these purposes are generally misapplication or misinterpretations of the law.  So an enumeration of error wouldn’t be, “The trial court erred when it found that the mother was a more fit parent than the father.”  But it could be “The trial court erred when it found that the mother was a more fit parent than the father simply because she is female, even though she is a registered sex offender and he is an award-winning kindergarten teacher.”

The history of the Court and how it operates is fascinating.  If you want to know more, you can click here.   

This article is being offered for informational purposes only. Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.

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