How Does the Oregon Supreme Court Work?
The Supreme Court of Oregon is the state’s highest court, and as the court of final appeal, it is also referred to as “the court of last resort.” The United States Supreme Court is the only court that can overrule the Supreme Court of Oregon’s decisions.
The court primarily performs a discretionary review of petitions that challenge the Court of Appeals’ decisions. The court may choose to review any petition based on a determination that it presents a vital question of state law. At least three justices must vote to permit the appeal; otherwise, the Court of Appeals’ verdict becomes final. The Supreme Court justices meet once a week to determine rulings. When a case is accepted, the court hears the case en banc, meaning that the court is not divided into panels. The case is heard before all Supreme Court justices, except a justice abstains from participation due to a conflict of interest or other relevant issues.
The Supreme Court of Oregon also reviews state tax court appeals, death penalty cases, and items regarding legal discipline on direct review. A direct review implies that the case does not need to pass through the Court of Appeals before the Supreme Court reviews it. Other direct review items comprise state agency decisions, such as the placement of energy production facilities, locations of sites for solid waste disposal, placement of prisons, and some labor law injunctions. Note that the Supreme Court does not hear appeals directly from the trial level courts of the state.
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over writs of quo warranto, writs of mandamus, writs of habeas corpus, reallocation of state legislative districts, and challenges to ballot measures including their titles, fiscal impact statement, and explanatory statement as listed in the Voter’s Pamphlet.
Generally, Oregon courts are courts of general jurisdiction. This means that the courts can hear most cases, including disputes based on federal or state law, or a blend of both. Federal courts are also bound by Oregon law and the Supreme Court’s decisions for cases that involve disputes about Oregon law. This is applicable even if the federal courts are not based in Oregon.
The Supreme Court of Oregon has seven justices, elected by nonpartisan, statewide ballots to serve six-year terms. To qualify as a justice, the applicant must be a resident of Oregon, a citizen of the United States for at least three years before the election, and a lawyer admitted to practice in Oregon. The members of the court elect one among themselves to serve as chief justice for a six-year term. The chief justice is responsible for all administrative responsibilities of the Supreme Court.
The court may appoint retired judges, lawyers, and other judges to temporarily function as judges at any level. The court may also appoint senior judges to serve in any state court and at any capacity below or above the judge’s previous level.
The Oregon Supreme Court admits new lawyers to the practice, disciplines attorneys, and appoints members to the Board of Bar Examiners. This board has at least fourteen members, including two members of the public who are not lawyers. The board is responsible for supervising the bar exam and screening potential lawyers before admitting them into practice. Following a complaint, the Supreme Court may also suspend, censure, or impeach judges.
If a state court judge is unable to complete a term due to retirement or death, the Oregon Governor may appoint another qualified person to the position. The person may retain the position by running for a full six-year term after the next general election.
However, if the Supreme Court needs a judge to function temporarily, the court may appoint a senior judge as a judge pro tempore. All senior judges are qualified judges that formerly served for a minimum of 12 years on the bench, but have now retired from a state court. Only former Supreme Court justices, elected Oregon Court of Appeals judges, and elected Oregon Circuit Court judges, may be assigned to temporary service.
The Oregon Judicial Case Information Network (OJCIN) provides access to non-confidential case dockets through a paid subscription resource for court case records. Some cases are considered confidential and are unavailable to the public. A sign-in option is available for persons with registered accounts, while other persons may register for access to the Supreme Court’s case dockets. Note that persons registering new accounts may pay a $150 set-up fee.
Interested persons may also send requests to the Appellate Court Records Section in person, by mail or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. In-person and regular mail-in requests should be directed to:
Appellate Court Records Section
Supreme Court Building
1163 State Street
Salem, OR 97301–2563
There is a $5 fee charged per certificate for a certified court record copy, plus 25 cents per page. The request will only be processed after payment is made. Note that an estimate will be given if the total cost is above $25.
The following information should be provided with the requests:
- Subject matter
- Type of record(s)
- Estimated date(s) the record was created or received
- Names of people included in the record or who created or received the record
- The number of copies requested
- Specific copies to be certified
Also, the requestor should include the following personal details:
- Name and signature
- Telephone number active during business hours
- Email address, if available
Interested persons may also fill the request form or use it as a guide in providing information.
Furthermore, a fee waiver or reduction may be granted if the requestor can demonstrate that disclosure of the records is in the public’s interest because it affects the society or community. A fee waiver will not be granted to a private individual, entity, or a profit-based business firm. These entities may only receive a fee waiver when it is required to enlist the public’s support in public safety or personal safety issues. Note that applications for fee waivers must be in writing.
The Oregon Supreme Court building has temporarily been moved to a new location due to the ongoing renovation that will be completed 24 months from November 2019. The temporary address of the Oregon Supreme Court is as:
Oregon Supreme Court
2850 Broadway Street Northeast
Salem, OR 97303
Telephone: (503) 986–5555
Appellate Court Manager: 503–986–5668
Court hours: 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, from Monday to Friday.
Oregon Supreme Court
1163 State Street
Salem, OR 97301