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How Does the Florida Supreme Court Work?

The Florida Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and functions as the court of last resort. The Supreme Court has authority over the District Courts of Appeal, Trial Circuit Courts, and Trial County Courts. 

As the state’s apex court, the Florida Supreme Court has jurisdiction over certain legal cases defined by the constitution. However, this jurisdiction is flexible as the legislature may periodically add or subtract cases. With regards to each case and as defined by law, jurisdiction held by the court may be:

  • Mandatory jurisdiction;
  • Discretionary jurisdiction;
  • Exclusive jurisdiction; or
  • Original nonexclusive jurisdiction

Mandatory jurisdiction covers cases that must be heard and decided by the Supreme Court as a matter of right. These cases include: 

  • Final orders imposing death sentences
  • Specific orders of the Public Service Commission on utility services and rates 
  • Bond validations
  • District Court decisions invalidating a state statute or a provision of the Florida constitution

Discretionary jurisdiction covers cases that may be reviewed by the Supreme Court at its discretion when a party seeks an appeal. Here the Supreme Court may choose to review a decision of the District Court of Appeal that:  

  • Expressly declares valid a state statute.
  • Affects a class of state or constitutional officers
  • Directly disagrees with another District Court decision or the Supreme Court on the same question of law.
  • Construes a provision of the federal or state constitution
  • Certifies direct conflict
  • Certifies great public importance
  • Certifies questions from federal courts
  • Certifies judgment of trial courts

Furthermore, the Supreme Court may also review certain categories of decisions, judgments, and questions of law certified to it by the federal appellate courts and District Courts of Appeal.

Exclusive jurisdiction refers to cases only resolvable by the Florida Supreme Court—this includes:

  • Regulation of the Florida Bar;
  • Regulation of admissions to the Florida Bar;
  • Determining whether the Governor is injured and unable to fulfill the duties of the office;
  • Creating and amending the Florida Rules of Court;
  • Issuance of advisory opinions to the Governor upon request, on related issues

Under its original nonexclusive jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is authorized to issue extraordinary writs of prohibition, habeas corpus, mandamus, quo warranto, and all other writs required to carry out its jurisdiction. These writs are not available as alternatives to the usual trial and appeal, both by current judicial decisions and historical development. Instead, they are only available in rare cases.

The original nonexclusive jurisdiction implies that the case begins and ends in the Florida Supreme Court, but cannot be further appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The jurisdiction is nonexclusive because it may originate in a lower court, and not the Supreme Court.

The most common writ is habeas corpus, which may be used by any person who seeks release from unlawful custody or detention. After applying to a Justice or judge, the person may test the arrest’s legality to determine if the confinement was following the due process requirements. 

The writ of mandamus and the writ of prohibition are similar. With the ban’s writ, a court may prevent a lower tribunal from exceeding its legal powers or acting upon matters outside its jurisdiction. On the other hand, the writ of mandamus forces an official to carry out a statutory duty that the official has failed or refused to perform.

The least sought writ is the writ of quo warranto. It is available to challenge public officials’ right to positions in offices where they claim to be entitled.

At least five Justices must participate in each hearing. For a decision to be official, at least four of the Justices must agree to the final verdict. 

Upon request, the Supreme Court also renders recommendatory opinions to the Governor, on questions regarding the Governor’s constitutional powers and duties. Also, the court can act under the Code of Judicial Conduct and discipline and remove judicial officers that violate ethical standards.

The Florida Supreme Court consists of seven Justices, including a Chief Justice, all elected or appointed from each appellate district. Apart from the Chief Justice, all Justices serve a six-year term and retire at 75 years old, even if they have not concluded their tenure.  

The Chief Justice office is rotated every two years, even though the Chief Justice can be elected to more than one term. The selection process considers administrative experience over the candidate’s seniority in office. The Chief Justice oversees all court proceedings. However, if the Chief Justice is absent from the court, the most senior Justice present becomes the acting Chief Justice.

To qualify as a Justice, the applicant must be an eligible and registered voter in Florida. The candidate must also have a good standing as a member of the Florida Bar for a minimum of ten years. The Supreme Court must have a minimum of one Justice who is resident in each of the state’s five lower appellate districts.

Note that Justices are removed in any of these two ways:

  • Sentenced by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and impeached by a two-thirds vote of the Florida House of Representatives 
  • They are disciplined upon the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. However, in some cases, the Judicial Qualifications Commission may only recommend a reprimand or fine.

If Supreme Court Justice position is vacant before the next election, the Governor may appoint another Justice by merit. The Governor appoints a replacement from a list of qualified persons suggested by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Justices that wish to remain in office after their tenure must go through a merit retention voting process where names will be presented on general election ballot papers. Voters may only decide whether the Justices remain in the office by answering the question on the ballot.

However, in a case where most voters are against the incumbent Justice’s retainment, the Governor will appoint another person to fill the vacancy. The new Justice is selected from a list of individuals whose applications have been reviewed and approved by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

The Florida Supreme Court maintains an online court docket of different forms for information about cases heard. These cases may include non-confidential briefs, petitions, referee reports, and dispositional orders filed on or after February 1, 2015. Generally, interested persons may access this information by searching with any of the following:

  • Case Number
  • Name of Party or Attorney
  • Lower Tribunal Case Number
  • Date Filed
  • Cases Filed

After selecting a search type, provide the required information, and submit details. The online court docket is updated every 15 minutes. Therefore, information on a recent case may be periodically searched if the first search does not provide the desired results. Interested persons may also use any of the following:

  • Recent Filings Portal: to view briefs, motions, petitions, and responses filed in cases in the last five days
  • New Cases Filed Last Seven Days: to view new cases filed in the Florida Supreme Court over the last seven days. However, the list does not include sealed cases and cases from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.
  • Case Disposition Orders: to search case dispositions entered between August 14, 2000, and January 31, 2015. This also includes orders ruling on petitions for conditional admission to the Florida Bar.

The Florida Supreme Court is located at the Court Building in Tallahassee. The contact details are as follows:

Florida Supreme Court

500 South Duval Street

Tallahassee FL 32399–1927

Email Address: fsc@flcourts.org

Phone Number: (850) 488–0125

The Supreme Court is open for business on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., excluding holidays, or as defined by the court schedule.

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