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Indiana Supreme Court

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Indiana Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   5
Founded:   1816
Location:   Indianapolis, Indiana
Chief:  $167,500[1]
Associates:  $165,000[2]
Judicial selection
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   10 years
Active justices

Brent Dickson  •  Robert Rucker  •  Steven David  •  Loretta H. Rush  •  Mark S. Massa  •  

Seal of Indiana.png

The Indiana Supreme Court is the state's highest court. The court is governed by Article 7 of the Indiana Constitution and is the highest judicial body within the state. Most cases in the state are resolved in the trial courts. Only one percent of the cases heard in the state will go on to be appealed to the state supreme court.[3] The supreme court was established in 1816 when Indiana first became a state. The court is located in the north wing of the Indiana State House building, in Indianapolis and operates year-round. However, there are no time requirements regarding when decisions will be issued or cases must be resolved by the court.[4]


Although the state's supreme court currently has one chief justice and four associate justices, the state constitution allows the Indiana General Assembly to increase the number of associate justices to a maximum of eight, not including the chief justice.

The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Chief justice Brent Dickson1986-2018Gov. Robert Orr
Justice Robert Rucker1999-2022Gov. Frank O'Bannon
Justice Steven David2010-2022Gov. Mitch Daniels
Justice Loretta H. Rush2012-12/31/2024Gov. Mitch Daniels
Justice Mark S. Massa2012-12/31/2024Gov. Mitch Daniels

Judicial selection

Indiana Supreme Court justices are chosen using a Missouri Plan or merit selection system. A list of three nominees is submitted by the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission to the governor. If the governor fails to choose a new justice within 60 days, the chief justice or the acting chief justice must do so. The appointed justice serves for two years before running for retention in the next general election.


A candidate of the supreme court must have practiced law in Indiana for at least 10 years or have served as a trial court judge for at least five. The judicial nominating commission chooses candidates based off of many considerations: legal education and writings, reputation in the legal community, physical health, financial interests, and public service contributions. Public Law 427 of 1971 created the guidelines for choosing a highly qualified person.[5] The mandatory retirement age for justices on the supreme court and all other courts in Indiana is 75.

Chief justice

The same judicial nominating commission also selects who will serve as the chief justice on the court. Once selected, the chief serves for a term of five years. The chief justice may be selected to serve additional terms. When the position of chief justice becomes vacant, the most senior member of the court serves as the acting chief justice, until a new chief justice is appointed.[6]

The chief justice is responsible for hiring administrators to help run the court. The chief provides regular updates throughout the year in a report known as the "State of the Judiciary".[4]


Newly appointed justices on the court must run in a retention election after serving for 2 years in office. Thereafter, they must run for retention every 10 years, in the year their terms are set to expire.[6]


The Indiana Supreme Court reviews decisions of the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Tax Court. The Supreme Court also has the power to review and revise sentences imposed by lower courts.[4]

The supreme court also has mandatory jurisdiction over the following types of cases:

  • appeals where a person received a sentence of death or life in prison
  • appeals where a state trial court has declared a statute passed by the legislature is unconstitutional. This means these types of cases are not first heard by the Indiana Court of Appeals but go directly to the supreme court.[4]

The court has original, exclusive jurisdiction over the following:

  • admitting attorneys to the practice of law in the state
  • discipline and disbarment of lawyers
  • unauthorized practice of law in the state
  • discipline, removal and retirement of judges
  • supervising the exercise of jurisdiction by other courts
  • issuance of writs necessary in aid of its jurisdiction;
  • appeals denied after a conviction and requested post-conviction relief where there was a death sentence
  • on petition, cases involving substantial questions of law, great public importance or emergency.[4]


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 995 970
2013 1,012 1,005
2012 1,020 1,095
2011 1,095 1,037
2010 1,029 920
2009 1,140 1,163
2008 1,217 1,200
2007 1,065 1,096

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Indiana was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Indiana received a score of 0.01. Based on the justices selected, Indiana was the 24th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[18]

Rules of practice

The supreme court created a committee on rules of practice and procedure to continuously study rules for court procedures contained in the Indiana Rules of Procedure. The committee makes recommendations and proposed amendments to create simpler court procedures, make decisions in cases and avoid unnecessary delays and costs. A link to the state's rules of appellate procedure is available here. A link to the most recently updated rules of procedure for appeals can be found on this page.[19] A link to the rules of evidence for the state is also available.[20]

Appealing a case to the supreme court

An appeal is handled differently from a regular case. Generally the appellate court does not hear testimony from witnesses. Most cases are argued by attorneys for the parties in written briefs which are submitted to the supreme court. An oral argument is sometimes set and provides the chance for the court's justices to ask the attorneys for the parties questions about the briefs.

Oral arguments

Arguments heard before the court may be viewed online via live webcast. A list of upcoming arguments for the week ahead is also available. A live video feed is made available two minutes before the argument begins. Videos are archived two hours after they are set to start.[21]

Supreme court law library

The supreme court assumed responsibility for the law library in 1867 from the state legislature. Members of the public can access the supreme court's law library for free, in-person or through the online catalog. The library contains over 70,000 volumes and also holds publications created under grants from the State Justice Institute.

The supreme court's collection contains some interesting items, such as:

  • The oldest book in the library, 1565 book summarizing the law of England.
  • An 1850's edition of Indiana statutes, published in German. ( At the time, 13 percent of the residents of Indianapolis were German.)
  • The library also has constitutions, statutes, laws and acts for several Native American tribes including the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Osage Nation and the Indian Territory.[3]

The law library is located at:

State House, Room 316 200 W. Washington Street Indianapolis, IN 46204


Judicial conduct

A complete reference which discusses the state's code of judicial conduct in more detail can be found in the Connecticut Practice Guide, which is available online. There are four essential canons of judicial conduct which apply to judges serving on the supreme court and all other state judges in Connecticut.

Canon 1: A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary , and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Canon 2: A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently and diligently.

Canon 3: A judge shall conduct the judge's personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

Canon 4: A judge shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.[22][23]

Removal of justices

There are three ways a supreme court justice, or other judge in the state, may be removed from office:

  • The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission may recommend discipline, suspenssion, retirement or the removal of a judge. The supreme court makes the final decision.
  • A judge may be impeached by the house of representatives and convicted by the senate.
  • With joint resolution of the general assembly, a judge may be removed upon the agreement of two-thirds of the members of each house.[24]

Notable decisions

Select opinions and summaries, highlighting important decisions affecting the law in the state can be accessed through Case Clips. Decisions and opinions date back to January 2009. The decisions are selected by the Indiana Judicial Center, an agency offering educational opportunities, publications and providing research assistance to judges and court employees.[25]

Supreme Court historical case database

The Indiana Supreme Court, in partnership with the Indiana State Archives, developed a new database of cases which begins with the court's first session in 1817. The database will eventually also include decisions made by the court before Indiana became a state. The historic cases involve freedom suits, Native American land claims, railroads, numerous criminal appeals and other types of legal matters.

Information for the database was taken from an old index card system. Phase I of the project included cases dating to around 1872. Phase II will include cases dated through 1883. The case files include records documenting many historical aspects of life in Indiana. Exhibits filed with the case records include: unique architectural drawings, hand-drawn maps, photographs and artifacts from criminal cases.[26]


Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Indiana earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[27]

History of the court

Indiana State Capitol, which contains the Indiana Supreme Court, in Indianapolis
  • 1970: Voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution which almost completely revised the section of the 1851 constitution with regard to the courts. Per the amendment, judges on the supreme court and court of appeals were no longer elected. Instead the governor, would make appointments to the courts based upon the recommendations of a judicial nominating committee. The governor would also be responsible for appointment of supreme court justices again. The amendment also included the current rules on retention elections for judges. The amendment also specified that judges serving on the supreme court and appellate court should be called justices instead of judges.
  • 1925: The state government was moved to Indianapolis and the state supreme court was housed in the Indiana State House.
  • 1891: To reduce the caseload of the state supreme court, the general assembly created an appellate court. However, the appellate court's jurisdiction was limited to appeals on "certain minor classes of cases."[28]
  • 1851: The state adopted a new constitution in 1851 and responsibility for selecting Supreme Court judges was shifted from the governor to voters. Judges serving on the supreme court were chosen in elections and served six-year terms. The number of judges sitting on the court also increased from three to five.
  • 1817: The first supreme court convened at Corydon, located in southern Indiana near the Ohio River, with three judges, who were appointed by the governor. The court's first session was held on May 5, and the court's first judges were appointed to seven-year terms.
  • 1816: Prior to becoming a state, Indiana was part of the Indiana Territory (along with Illinois and Ohio). The first court in the Indiana Territory was the general court, with three judges who were appointed by the governor of the Indiana Territory. These judges, along with the governor, created the territory's laws. When Indiana became a state in 1816, the supreme court was created from the Indiana Territory General Court.[4]

Notable firsts

  • Isaac N. Blackford was the longest serving justice on the court. He served from September 10, 1817 until January 3, 1853.
  • William H. Coombs served the shortest term on the bench. His 30-day term lasted from December 2, 1882 through January 1, 1883.[29]
  • Justice Myra Consetta Selby was the first woman, as well as the first African-American, to serve on the court. She served from January 4th, 1995 to October 7th, 1999.[30] He served on the court for a total of 12,899 days.

Former justices

Between the time the court was established in 1816 and 2014, the court has had 108 justices.

See also

External links


  1. Includes a $5.5k "subsistence" fee
  2. Includes a $3k "subsistence" fee
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2012-2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Indiana Judicial Branch, "Appellate Courts: Indiana Supreme Court," accessed June 8, 2014
  5. Indiana Judicial Branch, "Indiana Supreme Court, Today's Supreme Court," accessed April 3, 2014
  6. 6.0 6.1 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Indiana," archived October 2, 2014
  7. Indiana Courts, "Annual Report 2013-2014," accessed April 6, 2015
  8. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2011-2012"
  9. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2010-2011"
  10. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2009-2010"
  11. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2008-2009"
  12. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2007-2008"
  13. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2006-2007"
  14. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2005-2006"
  15. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2004-2005"
  16. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2003-2004"
  17. The Indiana Courts, "Indiana Supreme Court: Annual Report 2002-2003"
  18. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  19. Indiana Judicial Branch, "Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure," accessed June 7, 2014
  20. Indiana Rules of Court, Rules of Evidence," accessed June 7, 2014
  21. Indiana Judicial Branch, "Oral Arguments Online," accessed June 8, 2014
  22. 2014 Connecticut Practice Book, "Code of Judicial Conduct," accessed January 28, 2015
  23. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  24. American Judicature Society, "Methods of Selection: Removal of Judges," archived October 2, 2014
  25. Judicial Branch of Indiana, "Case Clips," accessed June 8, 2014
  26. Indiana Commission on Public Records, "State Supreme Court Cases," accessed June 10, 2014
  27. Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  28. Indiana Judicial Branch, "Indiana Supreme Court, History and Origins," accessed April 3, 2014
  29. 29.0 29.1 Indiana Judicial Branch, "Supreme Court Justices," accessed June 9, 2014
  30. Indiana Judicial Branch, "Indiana Supreme Court, Justice Biographies: Myra Consetta Selby," accessed April 3, 2014
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JudgeElection Vote
RushLoretta H. Rush 69.0% ApprovedA
MassaMark S. Massa 67.3% ApprovedA


JudgeIncumbencyRetention voteRetention Vote %
RuckerRobert Rucker   ApprovedAYes 71.4%ApprovedA
DavidSteven David   ApprovedAYes 68.9%ApprovedA