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Maine Supreme Judicial Court

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Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1820
Chief:  $
Associates:  $
Judicial selection
Method:   Gubernatorial appointment of judges
Term:   7 years
Active justices

Leigh Ingalls Saufley  •  Donald Alexander  •  Andrew Mead  •  Ellen Gorman  •  Jeffrey Hjelm  •  Joseph Jabar  •  

Seal of Maine.png

Established in 1820, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is the highest court in Maine's judicial system. Known as the Law Court when sitting as an appellate court, it is composed of seven justices.


The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Chief Justice Leigh Ingalls Saufley1997-presentGov. Angus S. King
Justice Donald Alexander1998-PresentGov. Angus S. King
Justice Andrew Mead2007-2021Gov. Paul LePage
Justice Ellen Gorman2007-2021Gov. John Baldacci
Justice Jeffrey Hjelm2014-2021Gov. Paul LePage
Justice Joseph Jabar2009-2016Gov. John Baldacci

Chief justice

See Chief justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court

There have been twenty-six chief justices of the court. Prentiss Mellen was the first, and current Chief Justice Leigh Ingalls Saufley is the 26th. She has served as the court's chief justice since 2001.


The court has appellate jurisdiction of all cases. Additionally, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is one of the few state Supreme Courts that is authorized to issue advisory opinions. These advisory opinions are issued at the request of either the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch.[1]

Judicial selection

Justices are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Maine Senate. Justices serve for seven year terms. Seven justices serve on the court, and each serves a seven-year term, with an unlimited number of terms. From the beginning of the court in 1820, 108 different justices have served.

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook 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 Maine was given a Campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Maine received a score of -1.01. Based on the justices selected, Maine was the 2nd 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.[2]

Removal of justices

Maine judges may be removed by either being impeached by the house of representatives and convicted by a two-thirds vote of the senate, or may be removed "upon the address by the governor of both houses of the legislature."[3]


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2012 675
2011 690
2010 684
2009 733
2008 755
2007 774


The Maine Judiciary does not provide annual case disposition statistics.

Notable decisions


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. Maine earned a grade of F 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.[5]

History of the court

Until the signing of the Articles of Agreement for Separation, Maine was part of Massachusetts and therefore included in the Massachusetts court system. In 1820, Article VI, Section 1, of the new Maine Constitution established the judicial branch of government, stating, "The judicial power of the State be vested in a Supreme Judicial Court, and such other courts as the Legislature shall from time to time establish." From the start of Statehood, the Supreme Judicial court was both a trial and an appellate court or "Law Court". The new State of Maine also adopted the same lower court structure as existed in Massachusetts, and the court system remained unchanged until 1852. The Court Reorganization Act of 1852 increased the jurisdiction of the Supreme Judicial Court to encompass virtually every type of case, increased the number of justices and authorized the justices to travel in circuits. The Probate courts were created in 1820 as county-based courts and have remained so.[6]

The next major change in the system came in 1929, when the Legislature created the statewide Superior Court to relieve the overburdened Supreme Judicial Court. Meanwhile, the lower courts continued to operate much as they always had until 1961 when the municipal courts and the trial justices system was abolished and the new statewide District Court created. This change made Maine's court system one of the most unified in the nation, putting all courts except the Probate system under Statewide administration. In 1978 Administrative Court was created to hear appeals from state agency administrative decisions. On March 15, 2001, the Administrative Court was abolished and its caseload and personnel was blended into the District Court system. In the 1990s, a number of specialized divisions were created within the Maine Court system, including the Family Division of the District Court and the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court Program, and the Adult Drug Court Program. Effective January 1, 2001, the Legislature further "unified" Maine's courts, and reassigned caseload between the various levels of court, making District Court the only court where divorce and family cases may be filed; providing for the direct filing of appeals to Law Court from District Court, reducing the intermediate appellate function of the Superior Court, and eliminating the previous cap of $30,000 in damages for civil suits filed in District Court.[7]

The number of Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court was increased from seven to eight by the Legislature in 1855. The Court was divided into two divisions of four members each, one constituting the Law Court, to have jurisdiction over questions of law and equity and capital cases, and to hold four terms a year; the other, to hold nisi prius terms only and to have no part in the law work of the Court. The Supreme Judicial Court, as the Law Court, is the court of final appeal in the State. Three members of the Supreme Judicial Court serve as the appellate Division for the Review of sentences. Justices of the court may sit in the Superior Court to hear non-jury civil actions, except divorce or annulments of marriage; and have jurisdiction over post conviction habeas corpus, admissions to the bar and bar disciplinary proceeding. The number, time and places of the terms of the Supreme Judicial Court are determined by the court.[8] The court's justices originally served "during good behavior" until the age of 70. In 1840, under the Third Amendment to the Maine Constitution, the current seven-year terms were adopted, and the age limit was removed. Under the 132nd amendment in 1976, justices were allowed to serve for six months after the expiration of their terms or until their successor was named.[9]

Notable firsts

See also

External links


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MaineMaine Supreme Judicial CourtMaine Superior CourtMaine District CourtsMaine Family DivisionMaine Small Claims CourtMaine Business and Consumer CourtMaine Probate CourtsUnited States District Court for the District of MaineUnited States bankruptcy court, District of MaineUnited States Court of Appeals for the First CircuitMaine countiesMaine judicial newsMaine judicial electionsJudicial selection in MaineMaineTemplate.jpg