Rhode Island Supreme Court

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Rhode Island Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   5
Founded:   1747
Chief:  $182,000
Associates:  $166,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   Life terms; no mandated retirement
Active justices

Maureen McKenna Goldberg  •  Francis Flaherty  •  Paul Suttell  •  William Robinson (Rhode Island)  •  Gilbert V. Indeglia  •  

Seal of Rhode Island.png

The Rhode Island Supreme Court, founded in 1747, is the court of last resort for the state of Rhode Island.


The court consists of a chief justice and four justices. While in other courts, justices are required to retire at a mandated age, the same is not true for the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court hold office for life.

The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg1990 - presentLincoln C. Almond
Justice Francis Flaherty2003-PresentGov. Donald Carcieri
Chief Justice Paul Suttell1990 - presentDonald Carcieri
Justice William Robinson (Rhode Island)2004 - presentDonald Carcieri
Justice Gilbert V. Indeglia2000-PresentGov. Donald Carcieri

Chief justice

Paul Suttell is the chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. He was nominated to this position by Governor Carcieri, approved by the Rhode Island Senate, and sworn in on July 16, 2009.[1]


The Rhode Island Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over legal and constitutional questions. Additionally, the court must regulate admission to the state Bar, and determines disciplinary issues as well.[2]

Judicial selection

Selection of supreme court justices begins with the Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission submits three to five names to the Governor of Rhode Island, and upon receiving the names, the governor selects and appoints one. The appointed justice must then be approved by both the state senate and house of representatives.[2]


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 Rhode Island was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Rhode Island received a score of -0.50. Based on the justices selected, Rhode Island was the 8th most liberal 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.[3]

Removal of justices


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 * *
2013 359 393
2012 355 373
2011 375 381
2010 418 334
2009 336 339
2008 323 319
2007 358 353


  • Rhode Island has not provided caseload data for 2014.

Notable decisions


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. Rhode Island 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.[5]

History of the court

Rhode Island Supreme and Superior Courthouse in Providence

In 1747, the Rhode Island General Assembly authorized the creation of the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and General Gaol Delivery, consisting of one chief justice and four associates, all serving one-year terms. Most of the judges during the 18th century were laymen, merchants or farmers and did not possess formal legal training, and therefore the court did not explicitly follow British Common Law. Parties, however, could still appeal to the British monarch, English courts or General Assembly.[6] In 1747, the Assembly appointed the first Chief Justice, Gideon Cowell, who was not a lawyer and the second, Joshua Babcock, a Yale educated physician. Stephen Hopkins served as Chief Justice from 1747 to 1755 and was the first trained lawyer to serve in this position.[7] In 1798, the Assembly renamed the Superior Court "The Supreme Judicial Court," and in 1843, "The Supreme Court."

Prominent justices

  • Peleg Arnold, Delegate to the Continental Congress
  • Stephen Hopkins, Signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Rhode Island
  • David Howell (jurist), Delegate to the Continental Congress, federalist leader, U.S. District Judge
  • William West, 1787-1789, American Revolution general, Deputy Governor, anti-federalist rebellion leader

Notable firsts

See also

External links