Part II: Supreme Judicial Court
The Supreme Judicial Court, established in 1820 when Maine separated from Massachusetts, is the State's highest court and the court of final appeal. It has seven justices, presided over by the Chief Justice, the head of the Judicial Branch.
The Court's major job is to decide appeals on questions of law that arise in civil actions and criminal trials. Questions of law are presented to the Court when a case is appealed from a trial court. Parties or their lawyers present written briefs and oral arguments outlining their respective positions. The justices reflect on the questions presented and issue a written opinion deciding the issues in accordance with the Court's view of the law and reversing or affirming the lower court's decision or a brief memorandum of decision briefly describing the outcome in a particular case. Memoranda of decision are not published. Opinions are published and become binding on all the Maine courts when they adjudicate similar disputes. Published opinions are available on this web site or may be found in bound form in the Maine Reporter. In its appellate capacity (as interpreter of the laws), the Court is called the Law Court.
The Court has several other jobs. An appellate division of the Court hears appeals from criminal sentences when the penalty is one year or more of incarceration. The justices may issue advisory opinions to the Governor or Legislature on legal issues of high public importance. The Court is also responsible for overseeing admission to the Bar and the conduct and discipline of lawyers and judges. Finally, the Court is the procedural rulemaking authority for all of the state's courts.