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The Supreme Court of Oregon has seven justices elected by nonpartisan, statewide ballot to serve six-year terms. Justices elected to the Supreme Court must be United States citizens, members of the Oregon State Bar, and residents of Oregon for at least three years. The court has its offices and courtroom in the Supreme Court Building one block east of the State Capitol in Salem. The members of the court elect one of their number to serve as chief justice for a six-year term.
Powers and Authority
The Supreme Court was created, and its role largely defined, by Article VII of the Oregon Constitution, as amended. It is primarily a court of review in that it reviews the decisions of the Court of Appeals in selected cases. The Supreme Court usually selects cases with significant legal issues calling for interpretation of laws or legal principles affecting many citizens and institutions of society. When the Supreme Court decides not to review a Court of Appeals case, the Court of Appeals’ decision becomes final. In addition to its discretionary review function, the Supreme Court hears direct appeals in death penalty, lawyer and judicial discipline, and Oregon Tax Court cases. It may accept original jurisdiction in mandamus, quo warranto and habeas corpus proceedings. It also reviews ballot measure titles, prison siting disputes, reapportionment of legislative districts, and legal questions on Oregon law referred by federal courts.
The chief justice is the administrative head of the Judicial Department and exercises administrative authority over and supervises the appellate, circuit and tax courts. The chief justice makes rules and issues orders to carry out necessary duties and requires appropriate reports from judges and other officers and employees of the courts. As head of the Judicial Department, the chief justice appoints the chief judge of the Court of Appeals and the presiding judges of all state trial courts from the judges elected to those courts. The chief justice adopts certain rules and regulations respecting procedures for state courts. The chief justice also supervises a statewide plan for budgeting, accounting and fiscal management of the judicial department.
The chief justice and the Supreme Court have the authority to appoint lawyers, elected judges and retired judges to serve in temporary judicial assignments.
Admission and Discipline of Lawyers and Judges
The Supreme Court admits lawyers to practice law in Oregon and has the power to reprimand, suspend or disbar lawyers whose actions have been investigated and prosecuted by the Oregon State Bar. In admitting lawyers, the Supreme Court acts on the recommendation of the Board of Bar Examiners, which conducts examinations for lawyer applicants each February and July and which screens applicants for character and fitness to practice law. The Supreme Court appoints at least 14 members to the Board of Bar Examiners. The board includes two public members who are not lawyers. The Supreme Court also has the power to censure, suspend or remove judges after investigation and recommendation by the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability.