Colorado Supreme Court

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Colorado Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1876
Chief:  $148,000
Associates:  $145,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Assisted appointment
Term:   10 years
Active justices

Nathan Coats  •  Nancy Rice  •  Allison Eid  •  Gregory Hobbs  •  Brian Boatright  •  William W. Hood  •  Monica Marquez  •  

Seal of Colorado.png
Oral argument being heard by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Founded on August 1, 1876, the Colorado Supreme Court is the state's court of last resort. Decisions made by the supreme court apply to all other courts in the state. When cases are heard in the supreme court, all the court's justices sit en banc, or in a full panel, to hear every case.[1] Funding to operate court comes from the state's general fund.[2]


The court is composed of seven justices; six associate justices and one chief justice. Justices serve 10-year terms.[3] The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Justice Nathan Coats2000-2023Gov. Bill Owens
Chief Justice Nancy Rice1998-2021Gov. Roy Romer
Justice Allison Eid2006-2019Gov. Bill Owens
Justice Gregory Hobbs1996-8/31/2015Gov. Roy Romer
Justice Brian Boatright2011-2025Gov. John Hickenlooper
Justice William W. Hood2014-2016Gov. John Hickenlooper
Justice Monica Marquez2010-2025Gov. Bill Ritter

Judicial selection

See also: Judicial selection in Colorado

In 1966, voters in Colorado passed a constitutional amendment requiring that the state's judges be appointed by the governor. Previously, judges were elected by voters. The state's current system is also known as a merit selection method of judicial selection. Under the process, within 30 days of a vacancy, the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commission must meet and consider candidates based upon their applications, recommendations and personal interviews. The commission then compiles a list of 2-3 nominees and submits the list to the governor. The governor appoints one nominee from the list. If the governor does not select a nominee within 15 days, the chief justice of the supreme court must then appoint a nominee from the list.[4]


To be considered for appointment to the court, a candidate must be:

  • registered to vote in the state
  • licensed to practice law in Colorado (for at least the past five years)
  • under the age of 72 when applying for consideration

Chief justice

The chief justice is elected by the other justices on the court. Additionally, the chief justice is the executive head of the state judicial system and is the ex-officio chair of the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commission. Other duties include appointing the chief judge to the court of appeals and the district courts. The chief justice may also appoint active or retired judges to serve on the state's courts.[3]


When first appointed, all judges in the state, including those on the supreme court, serve a provisional term of at least 2 years. In order to continuing serving on the court, they must run for retention in the next general election. After their first term and re-election, justices on the supreme court run for retention every 10 years.[5]

Judicial performance

In 1988, the Colorado General Assembly created judicial performance commissions which were to conduct a fair and constructive evaluation of the state's judges. The evaluation information is designed to help voters make informed decisions when voting on whether to retain a judge who runs to remain on the bench.

The Colorado Commission on Judicial Performance created procedures to evaluate all the state's judges, including the justices of the supreme court. The areas for evaluation include:

  • integrity
  • knowledge and understanding of law, evidence and legal procedures
  • communications skills
  • preparation, attentiveness and control during judicial proceedings
  • sentencing practices
  • management of court docket (or schedule)
  • case management and disposition
  • administrative ability
  • punctuality
  • effectiveness in working with parties
  • service to legal professionals and public[6]

Written profiles and recommendations for retention are provided to voters in the state's "Blue Book" election guide sent to voters before each election. The information is also available on the commission's web site.[6][7]


Most of the cases that come before the court are appeals of decisions issued by the Colorado Court of Appeals. However, under Article VI of the Colorado Constitution the following types of cases are under the direct jurisdiction of the supreme court:

  • cases involving potentially unconstitutional statutes
  • writs of habeas corpus
  • criminal appeals.
  • cases involving the Public Utilities Commission
  • water rights cases
  • summary proceedings under the elections code
  • prosecutorial appeals in pending criminal matters which involve search and seizure issues
  • cases involving judicial misconduct[3]

The court is responsible for licensing and disciplining lawyers in the state. All legal practice rules and procedures, for both civil and criminal cases, are the exclusive responsibility of the court. In addition, the court also oversees the following:

  • State Court Administrator
  • Board of Continuing Legal Education
  • Board of Law Examiners
  • Commission on Judicial Discipline
  • Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee[3]


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 1,465 1,401
2013 1,457 1,508
2012 1,494 1,612
2011 1,387 1,440
2010 1,518 1,554
2009 1,643 1,554
2008 1,657 1,760
2007 1,534 1,450
[8]Colorado Court System, "Fiscal Year 2013, Supreme Court Caseload Trends"</ref>


JudgeElection Vote
MarquezMonica Marquez 67.8% ApprovedA
BoatrightBrian Boatright 68.6% ApprovedA
Colorado Supreme Court, Associate Justice
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Michael Bender Green check mark transparent.png 872,387 60.4%
Against retention 571,029 39.6%
Colorado Supreme Court, Associate Justice
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Nancy Rice Green check mark transparent.png 891,962 62%
Against retention 548,633 38%
Colorado Supreme Court, Associate Justice
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Alex Martinez Green check mark transparent.png 859,051 60%
Against retention 584,026 40%
Colorado Supreme Court, Associate Justice
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Allison Eid Green check mark transparent.png 1,338,571 74.6%
Against retention 456,337 25.4%
  • Click here for 2010 General Election Results from the Colorado Secretary of State.
Colorado Supreme Court, Associate Justice
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Gregory Hobbs Green check mark transparent.png 1,282,348 72.4%
Against retention 489,429 27.6%
Colorado Supreme Court, Associate Justice
2002 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Nathan Coats Green check mark transparent.png 828,622 74.3%
Against retention 286,961 25.7%

Political outlook

See also: Political ideology 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 Colorado was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Colorado received a score of -0.29. Based on the justices selected, Colorado was the 16th 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.[9]

Rules of practice

State statutes and rules for practicing in the state's courts, including the supreme court are available online. Check the links below to find more information.

Oral arguments

Oral arguments before the supreme court are open to the public. In an oral argument, lawyers for the parties make a presentation before the justices of the court which describes the legal reasons the court should make a ruling that favors their client. An oral arguments in an appellate case are different from the closing arguments presented during jury or court trials in lower courts. Supreme court oral arguments usually involve detailed legal discussions about statutes and prior rulings made by the court, with more of a focus on legal issues instead of facts or evidence.

The court does not issue a decision immediately after an oral argument. The court can take as long as nine months to issue a ruling, but some rulings are issued within a month. The supreme court's website includes a schedule of oral arguments up to two years in advance. Audio files of past oral arguments, dating back to 2010, are also available on the court's website.[10]


Judicial conduct

There are four essential canons of judicial conduct which apply to judges serving on the supreme court and all other state judges in Colorado.

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 or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.[11][12]

Removal of justices

Judges may be removed in multiple ways:

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. Colorado earned a grade of D 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.[14]

Notable cases

Visiting the court

Oral arguments before both the Colorado Supreme Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals are open to the public. The public can also visit both courts, which are located at the:

Ralph L. Carr Colorado Justice Center 2 East 14th Avenue Denver, CO 80203

Guided tours are offered to groups of 15 or more. A tour can be requested using forms available on the court's website.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag


The Denver Post building, which houses the Colorado Supreme Court

The discovery of gold in 1858 brought a huge influx of people seeking their fortunes into the area that would eventually become the state of Colorado. The city of Denver was established on November 17, 1858. A need for order and a system of justice became evident early on and in the hills, areas were divided into "miners districts". The districts were established informally in areas where there were large groups of miners. The districts established property boundaries, defined property rights, elected officers, set up courts and punished criminals.[1]

Most of current day Colorado was originally part of Arapahoe County in the Territory of Kansas. An election in 1859 established the Territory of Jefferson, but it wasn't until 1861 that the territory was officially recognized by the Union. The territory's first court session was held on July 10, 1861. When Colorado was admitted to the Union in 1876, its constitution "provided for a Supreme Court with a bench of three justices, as well as four judicial districts, with one judge serving each."[1]

The Colorado Supreme Court was established even before Colorado became the 38th state. The state was first known as the Territory of Jefferson, and a supreme court was established in 1859. Once Colorado was recognized as an official territory of the United States, a new supreme court was set up in 1861. The first justices to serve on the court were appointed by then-president Abraham Lincoln. Three justices served on the court and the court began hearing cases on July 10, 1861 in Denver. The first case to be heard by the court was Gardner v. Dunn.[1]

The state was admitted to the union on August 1, 1876. The original constitution called for a supreme court with three justices. In 1905, the court increased to its current number of seven justices.[1]

Notable firsts

  • Justice Gregory K. Scott was the first African American appointed to the court and served from January 15, 1993 until 2000.[17]
  • Justice Jean E. Dubofsky was the first woman appointed to the court. She served from 1979 until 1987.[18]
  • Justice Alex Martinez was the first Hispanic appointed to the court, where he served from 1997 until October 2011.[19]
  • Justice Monica Marquez became the first Hispanic female and the first openly gay judge to be appointed to the court in 2010.[20]

Former justices

Proposal to establish judicial term limits

In 2008, a ballot measure was proposed, the Judicial Term Limits Initiative would have limited the number of terms judges in Colorado could serve. The official ballot initiative read:

"An amendment to the Colorado constitution limiting terms for state court judges, and, in connection therewith, making a full term of office four years for justices of the supreme court, judges of the court of appeals, district court judges, county court judges, judges of the probate and juvenile courts of Denver, and any other state court judge with jurisdiction inferior to the supreme court; and limiting judges who are retained after January 1, 2010, from serving for more than three full terms of office at the same judicial level after January 1, 2010."

This initiative did not make it onto the ballot.

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "Welcome to the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, An Historical Guide," June 4, 2014
  2. Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "Court Facts," June 4, 2014
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "Colorado Supreme Court," accessed June 4, 2014
  4. Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "The Colorado Merit Selection System, Judicial Nominating Commissions," accessed June 4, 2014
  5. Colorado Bar Association, "Where Do (Colorado) Judges Come From?," accessed June 12, 2014
  6. 6.0 6.1 Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "Colorado Courts at a Glance," accessed June 4, 2014
  7. State of Colorado, Office of Judicial Peformance Evaluation, accessed June 4, 2014
  8. Colorado Court System, "Annual Statistical Report: Fiscal Year 2014," accessed April 6, 2015
  9. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  10. Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "Oral Arguments," accessed June 10, 2014
  11. Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct," July 1, 2010
  12. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  13. Methods of Judicial selection
  14. Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  15. Original Defend Colorado Now Amendment
  16. Rocky Mountain News
  17. Colorado Judicial Branch, "Press Release: Justice Gregory Kellam Scott," March 6, 2000, accessed June 3, 2014
  18. CBA CLE Legal Connection, "Raising the Bar: 'Famous Firsts' Honored by the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Foundation," September 2, 2011
  19. Gordon and Rees LLP
  20. Fox News Latino, "First Latina, Openly Gay Colorado Supreme Court Justice," December 12, 2010 (dead link)
  21. Judicial Branch, State of Colorado, "Colorado Supreme Court Justices, by Session," accessed June 4, 2014
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