Currently, the Supreme Court reviews petitions in approximately 700 cases a year and accepts review in about 10-12 percent of cases from the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The court also resolves appeals from the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals and the Tax Court, two executive-branch agency courts, and petitions filed by the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, and the Board on Judicial Standards. Certain election-related disputes and appeals in first-degree murder cases are automatically heard by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is responsible for the regulation of the practice of law and for judicial and lawyer discipline. Additionally, as the highest court in Minnesota, it promulgates rules of practice that govern procedures in the state's courts.
Each justice serves as the court's representative to one or more of the state's judicial districts, has a role on one or more Supreme Court boards, and has responsibilities in the Judicial Branch ranging from day-to-day administration to strategic planning for the state's courts.
Often called the "court of last resort," the Supreme Court is Minnesota's highest appellate court.
The Supreme Court plays a vital role in our constitutional system, as well as an important role in the daily lives of citizens. As one of the three co-equal branches of state government, the Judicial Branch is one of the constitutional bodies that provides the checks and balances, along with the legislative (House of Representatives, Senate) and executive (Governor) branches of government, found in the constitution. The Minnesota Supreme Court also serves as the final guardian of the rights and protections provided in Minnesota's constitution, and interprets and applies the U.S. Constitution.
But, beyond this work, the Supreme Court serves people. Each year hundreds of persons -- individuals, companies, even state and local governments -- bring their appeals of legal cases to this court. Sometimes the decisions the court makes interpreting a law may only affect the people in that case, but often the decisions have an impact on every citizen in the state.
There are seven Supreme Court justices. The justices are elected on a non-partisan, statewide ballot to six-year terms. If a justice retires, resigns, or dies during the elected term, the governor appoints someone to the vacant position. The justices, as with all judges in the state, must be lawyers, although they cannot practice law while serving on the court.
Each justice is the liaison to a number of Supreme Court boards and other state policy commissions that are charged with responsibilities ranging from day-to-day administration to strategic planning.
Appeals are the main business of the Minnesota Supreme Court, followed by the court's administrative functions as the highest court in the Judicial Branch.
The number of appeals coming to the Minnesota Supreme Court averages about 700 per year. Most of those appeals come to the Supreme Court in a request for review of a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The court grants review in about 10-12 percent of these cases. The balance of the Supreme Court cases come directly to the Court from other bodies such as the Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals and the Tax Court. The Supreme Court also has direct appellate jurisdiction over appeals in first-degree murder cases, and original jurisdiction in attorney and judge disciplinary cases from the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board and the Board on Judicial Standards.
In addition to hearing appeals, the Supreme Court has another, less visible, role. The Supreme Court is the rule-making body for all of the state's courts. In addition, the Supreme Court shares administrative responsibility for the operation of the state court system with the Judicial Council. The Supreme Court is also responsible for governing the practice of law. Under its supervision, a bar examination is given twice a year to law school graduates, and the court admits successful applicants to the practice of law. The court also continually monitors attorneys through yearly registrations, required continuing education credits, and investigations of complaints of unethical or incompetent practice. The Supreme Court can take disciplinary action -- reprimand, suspension, or removal -- against attorneys or judges who have violated ethical standards.
The Supreme Court is the court of last resort when it comes to resolving challenges involving the constitutional rights of the people of the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Court of Appeals was created in 1983 to function as the state's error-correcting court, but the decision of the Supreme Court can have the greatest effect on law and society because its decisions serve as precedent for future cases.
An appeal is really the end of a longer process. By the time a case is filed in the Minnesota Supreme Court, most of the legal activity in the case has already taken place.
There has been, for example, some problem or dispute in the community that could not be resolved informally between the parties. There has been the institution of a legal case, negotiations, investigation, filing of documents, research, settlement efforts, motions, a trial or hearing, a decision by a judge or jury and a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Generally, only then can a case be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Types of Appeals
Most appeals heard by the Supreme Court come after the Court of Appeals has reviewed a final decision by a judge or jury in a lower court. The Supreme Court receives cases from the Court of Appeals on petitions for review or accelerated review. However, several types of cases bypass the Court of Appeals and go directly to the Supreme Court including appeals of murder cases in the first degree and cases coming from the Tax Court and Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals. A party who is dissatisfied with a lower court's decision may file an appeal. The one exception is that, under the constitution, no appeal can be made after a person is found not guilty of a criminal charge.
The Appeals Route
Every case follows a certain route to the Supreme Court. Before appealing, normally a person considers the cost, time, and work involved in the appeal, as well as the potential effect on the law of a Supreme Court ruling on that matter.
In addition, the party making the appeal must have some basis or legal reason for the Supreme Court to review the case. Was the evidence sufficient to support the verdict? Was, for example, the law interpreted correctly by the Court of Appeals? Does the law involved in the case meet constitutional standards? Does the case raise issues of statewide importance? It is legal issues such as these, among others, that the Supreme Court studies and decides.
To bring a case to the Supreme Court, the lawyers for the parties must file briefs, or written arguments, explaining in detail the basis of the appeal and the law that applies. Accompanying these briefs will be all the records of the case from the trial court, including a court reporter's word-for-word transcript of witnesses' testimony and lawyers' statements in the trial, the judge's orders, exhibits and a decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, if there is one.
Once filed, the justices, assisted by courts staff, review the case. Cases are handled in two different ways: (1) Some cases are decided on the basis of the information in the briefs and records, but without an oral hearing; or (2) in other cases, where significant points of law are involved, there are also oral hearings before the justices.
A hearing before the Supreme Court is much different from one before a trial court. There are no witnesses, no evidence, and no trials -- only presentations by the lawyers on questions of law involved in that particular case. Instead of one judge who sits in a trial court, seven Supreme Court justices sit together and make a decision.
The Oral Argument
The setting at the oral argument is formal and dignified. The appellant's lawyer has 35 minutes to explain the merits of his or her position and the respondent’s lawyer has 25 minutes. Frequently, the justices ask questions of the lawyers to help clarify the issues which the court must decide.
It is after the hearing, however, that the difficult work of making a decision and writing an opinion takes place. Immediately after the hearing, the justices move to the conference room where they deliberate on the cases. Each justice has the opportunity to present his or her thoughts about the proper outcome. The chief justice speaks last. At the conference, the justices attempt to come to a consensus on the case. Where no oral argument has been held, the justices confer on the cases in a similar fashion.
After the conference, a justice is assigned to prepare a written opinion which states a proposed decision and the reasoning behind it. The proposed opinion is then circulated to the other justices, who can: sign it if they agree; write a dissenting opinion if they disagree; or write a concurring opinion if they agree but have different reasoning. The opinion of the majority is the decision of the court.
Once decided, the opinions are filed with the Clerk of the Appellate Courts and released to the public online at www.mncourts.gov. Often the news media covers the opinions. Later the opinions are bound into books that are available for reference in law libraries.
The Supreme Court's decision can uphold, reverse, or modify the ruling of the lower court. If a ruling of the trial court is reversed, the case often must return to that court for a new trial. The decisions of the Supreme Court, however, are final in this state and must be followed by lower courts and other officials.
After a decision in the Minnesota Supreme Court, there is only one other possible avenue of appeal -- to the United States Supreme Court, and then only if a question of the United States Constitution or federal law is involved. Because the United States Supreme Court accepts only a small percentage of the cases that are presented to it, very few cases travel from the Minnesota Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments during the first two weeks of each month from September through June.
Week one oral arguments occur in the courtroom on the 2nd floor of the State Capitol. Week two arguments occur in Courtroom 300 on the 3rd floor of the Minnesota Judicial Center
The Supreme Court typically hears oral arguments at the capitol during the first week
of each month, excluding July and August. Presently, all oral arguments are being heard at the Capitol. Please view the Supreme Court Calendar
for more information.
The State Capitol Courtroom has limited seating, there are approximately 36 seats in the courtroom
and this includes seating for attorneys involved in oral arguments and their clients. Seating is first-come, first-serve. Visitors must sit in the audience area of the courtroom. Standing is prohibited during oral arguments
Please note that visitors to the courtroom are required to pass through screening to enter and are not permitted to enter with bags larger than 4.5" X 6.5" X 3".
If you have a group interested in viewing oral arguments, please contact Lissa Finne in the Court Information Office
Overflow seating may also be arranged across the street from the Capitol at the Minnesota Judicial Center
Although all oral arguments are presently being heard at the Capitol, the Supreme Court has typically heard oral arguments at the Minnesota Judicial Center during the second
week of each month, excluding July and August. Please view the Supreme Court Calendar
for more information.
Please note that beginning January 1, 2022, all visitors to the Minnesota Judicial Center will be required to pass through security screening
If you have a group interested in viewing oral arguments, please contact Lissa Finne in the Court Information Office
Effective Aug. 28, 2017, all Supreme Court oral arguments held in both the Minnesota State Capitol Courtroom and the Supreme Court’s courtroom in the Minnesota Judicial Center are streamed live, and are accessible through this page. Upcoming live streams are announced on the page in advance, and a button to go to each live stream appears 30 minutes prior to each oral argument, or each set of oral arguments being heard on any given day.
After each live stream, the webcast recordings are available in a searchable, online database of archived Supreme Court oral arguments, which allows users to access all recorded oral arguments from September 2005 to the present.
The Minnesota Supreme Court makes webcasts of oral arguments held before the court available on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
These webcasts are available in a searchable, online database of archived Supreme Court oral arguments, which allows users to access all recorded oral arguments from September 2005 to the present.
Please help us maintain decorum.
Issues of statewide importance are decided based on oral arguments. Therefore, it is critical that the justices and attorneys work without distraction. Please consider the following guidelines while in court:
More information on Oral Argumments »
- Sit in the audience area of the courtroom. Standing is prohibited during oral arguments.
- Remain silent during the proceedings.
- You may not eat, drink, chew gum or use tobacco in the courtroom.
- Remove hats before entering the courtroom.
- No demonstrations are allowed, including signs, banners, or displays of symbols.
- Electronic recording devices are prohibited, except when permission is given to the media
- Turn off all cell phones before entering the courtroom.
- During the COVID-pandemic, masks are required to be worn in the courtroom.
- Marshal calls court to order; audience stands. During oral arguments, the marshal maintains courtroom decorum and ensures that attorneys adhere to time limitations.
- Justices enter the courtroom. Prior to oral arguments the justices prepare by reading “briefs,” which are documents submitted to the Court by the parties involved. Briefs explain the legal questions and points of view that the attorneys will argue. The justices are seated in order of seniority, with the Chief Justice in the middle of the bench.
- Appellant’s attorney argues the case. The attorney representing the appealing party answers justices’ questions about his/her legal argument. Thirty-five minutes are allotted.
- Respondent’s attorney argues and answers justices’ questions. Twenty-five minutes are allotted.
- Rebuttal by appellant’s attorney. Typically, the appellant’s attorney reserves five minutes of his/her total time to respond to the opposing party’s arguments.
- Justices conference the case. One justice is randomly assigned to draft the Court’s “opinion” or decision, which is discussed during the conference.
- Justices draft and revise the Court’s opinion. The draft is circulated among all seven justices to review and revise. They may also write a “concurring opinion” – agreeing with the decision but for different reasons – or a “dissenting opinion” – disagreeing with the majority opinion.
- Opinion filed with the Clerk of the Appellate Courts, released to the parties and the public via the Judicial Branch web site, www.mncourts.gov.
A video co-production of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Twin Cities Public Television's (TPT) Minnesota Channel.
In Their Own Words: The Justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court
In a series of short, individual videos, the justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court share their backgrounds, the importance of the public's trust, memorable cases, advice for young people, and more. The videos are available below.
Becoming a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice
Life Before the Court
Drafting and Releasing Opinions
Reaching Consensus or Not
Surprising Elements of the Job
A Sense of Responsibility
Characteristics of a Justice
Fostering Trust Through Openness
Symbols of Justice
Advice for Advocates Appearing Before the Court
Advice for Aspiring Legal Professionals
First Day On the Court
The Importance of a Diverse Court
Advice for Young People