Kentucky Supreme Court

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Kentucky Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1975
Chief:  $141,000
Associates:  $136,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Nonpartisan election of judges
Term:   8 years
Active justices

Bill Cunningham (Kentucky)  •  Lisabeth Hughes Abramson  •  Mary Noble  •  John D. Minton, Jr.  •  Daniel Venters  •  Michelle Keller  •  David Allen Barber  •  Will T. Scott  •  

Seal of Kentucky.png

The Kentucky Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Kentucky. It is composed of seven justices: a chief justice and six justices who are chosen by election from the seven appellate districts throughout Kentucky. The justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court issue the final interpretations of state law in Kentucky. They serve eight-year terms and also establish the "rules of practice and procedure for all Kentucky judges and attorneys."[1]


Seven justices from seven districts create the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Associate justice Bill Cunningham (Kentucky)2007-2023
Associate justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson2007-2023Gov. Ernie Fletcher
Deputy chief justice Mary Noble2006-2016
Chief justice John D. Minton, Jr.2006-2023Gov. Ernie Fletcher
Associate justice Daniel Venters2008-2019Gov. Steve Beshear
Associate justice Michelle Keller2013-2023Gov. Steve Beshear
Justice David Allen Barber3/23/2015-PresentGov. Steve Beshear
 Will T. Scott
Justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court

Chief justice

The Chief Justice is elected by the other justices for four-year terms. The Chief Justice serves in an administrative role over the courts. On May 12, 2008, John Minton was elected as the fifth Chief Justice of Kentucky. "I am honored by the vote of my colleagues," said Justice Minton in response to being elected chief justice. "I look forward to working with the members of the Court and the Court of Justice family in service to the citizens of the Commonwealth." "Justice Minton is an outstanding scholar and a person of unquestioned integrity," said former Chief Justice Lambert. "His experience serving as a judge for three levels of Kentucky courts equips him well to be an outstanding chief justice. I am delighted with his election."[2]

Minton was selected for another term as chief justice in June 2012.[3]

Judicial selection

Justices are elected for eight-year terms in nonpartisan elections.

The Kentucky Supreme Court chamber


For the position of supreme court justice, which is an eight-year staggered term, the candidate must be a citizen of the United States and a resident of both the Commonwealth and of the district from which he is elected for at least two years immediately prior to taking office. He or she must be licensed to practice law in the courts of the Commonwealth for at least eight years before becoming eligible to serve on the court.[4] The candidate must file with the Kentucky Secretary of State's Office and the filing fee is $200.00.


All appeals involving imprisonment for twenty years or more, life imprisonment, or the death penalty go directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court; all other appeals are heard by the lower courts, and are only permitted to be heard by the supreme court if the Court of Appeals consents.[1]


Please note: These numbers include statewide criminal and civil appeals.

Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 * *
2013 * *
2012 493 429
2011 504 463
2010 471 463
2009 471 567
2008 544 564
2007 580 591


  • Kentucky has not yet provided caseload data for 2013 or 2014.



Unopposed  Judge Bill Cunningham (Kentucky) (1st District)
Unopposed  Judge John D. Minton, Jr. (2nd District)
Unopposed  Judge Lisabeth Hughes Abramson (4th District)
6th District
CandidateIncumbencyPrimary VoteElection Vote
CunninghamTeresa L. Cunningham No41.6%   DefeatedD
KellerMichelle KellerApprovedAYes58.4%   ApprovedA
See also: Kentucky judicial elections, 2014
See also: Kentucky Supreme Court elections, 2014

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 Kentucky was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Kentucky received a score of 0.17. Based on the justices selected, Kentucky was the 16th 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.[6]

Notable cases

Kentucky Supreme Court rules that guns are allowed on university grounds in vehicles (2012)

Frankfort, Kentucky: The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that universities and colleges cannot enforce bans on guns on campus if the gun is stored in a vehicle.[7][8] The ruling has drawn fire from many Kentucky universities, seven of which, including the University of Louisville, filed briefs supporting the University of Kentucky.[7] It was the University of Kentucky's firing of a graduate student found to have a firearm in his vehicle that set off the legal battle.[8]

Though many institutions of higher learning oppose the ruling, believing it will limit their ability to secure their campuses, the National Rifle Association has praised the ruling.[7] The basis for the ruling were state laws barring "organizations from prohibiting gun owners from carrying firearms in their vehicles."[7]

Kentucky Supreme Court declares state's entire education system unconstitutional (1989)

In 1989, the Kentucky Supreme Court declared that every child in the state has a right to an adequate, not just equal, education. The court also reaffirmed that the Kentucky General Assembly has the sole responsibility for creating and maintaining an "efficient" system of public schools.[9] In its opinion, the court declared that a constitutionally efficient school system is "one established and maintained by the General Assembly to be substantially uniform throughout the state, free to all Kentucky children, and one that provides equal educational opportunity regardless of place of residence or economic conditions."[9] Chief Justice Robert F. Stephens, author of the court's opinion in this case, wrote:

"Each child, every child in this Commonwealth must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education... The children of the poor and the children of the rich, the children who live in poor districts and the children who live in rich districts must be given the same opportunity and access to an adequate education."[9][10]


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. Kentucky 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.[11]

History of the court

The Kentucky state capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, which houses the Kentucky Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Kentucky was created with a constitutional amendment in 1975, releasing the Kentucky Court of Appeals from the burden of hearing all appeals in the state. Before the creation of this body, the highest court in the state was the Kentucky Court of Errors and Appeals.[12]

The court meets in a courtroom located on the second floor of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort. The second floor of the capitol building is also home to offices for the justices and Kentucky Supreme Court personnel.

Former justices

Notable firsts

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kentucky Court of Justice, "Supreme Court of Kentucky," accessed June 2, 2014
  2. Bowling Green Daily, "Minton named state’s chief justice," March 16, 2012
  3. Kentucky Supreme Court, "Chief Justice John Minton," accessed December 27, 2014
  4. Kentucky Secretary of State, "Candidate qualifications," accessed June 2, 2014
  5. Kentucky Courts, "Statewide Caseload Report," accessed June 2, 2014
  6. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 The Courier Journal, "Kentucky Supreme Court says universities can't ban guns in staff, student vehicles on campuses," April 27, 2012
  8. 8.0 8.1 LEX18, "Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Gun In Glove Box Legal On Campus," April 26, 2012
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 History of Education, "Kentucky Supreme Court declares entire education system unconstitutional," accessed December 26, 2014
  10. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  11. Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  12., "Kentucky Supreme Court," accessed June 2, 2014
  13. Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, "Supreme Court Justices of Kentucky By District, 1976-2009," accessed December 27, 2014
  14., "'We have lost a good friend': Irreverent, trailblazing jurist dies after bout with cancer," August 25, 2007
  15. Capitol, 'In Honor Of Justice William E. Mcanulty, Jr.," September 18, 2007
  16. Kentucky Court of Justice, " Judge Sara Walter Combs," accessed June 3, 2014
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