Definition of supreme court
supreme court (plural supreme courts)
- A court of law which represents the highest legal authority within a jurisdiction.
A supreme court (also called a court of last resort, instance, or judgment; or high or highest court) is in some jurisdictions the highest judicial body within that jurisdiction's court system, whose rulings are not subject to further review by another court. The designations for such courts differ among jurisdictions. Courts of last resort typically function primarily as appellate courts, hearing appeals from the lower trial courts or intermediate-level appellate courts. Many countries in fact have multiple "supreme courts," with each being the court of last resort for a particular geographical region or on a particular area of law. The United States, having a federal system of government, has a single Supreme Court of the United States, but each U.S. state furthermore has its own high court over which the U.S. Supreme Court only has jurisdiction on issues of federal law. Other jurisdictions follow the Austrian model of a separate constitutional court (first developed in the Czechoslovak constitution and Austrian Constitution of 1920). Furthermore, in e.g. Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Poland, and Taiwan, there is a separate Supreme Administrative Court whose decisions are final and whose jurisdiction does not overlap with the Supreme Court. The U.S. states of Texas and Oklahoma also divide subject matter jurisdiction among two separate courts of last resort, with one hearing criminal cases and the other civil cases.
Many higher courts create through their decisions case law applicable within their respective jurisdictions or interpret codal provisions in civil law countries to maintain a uniform interpretation:
- Most common law nations have the doctrine of stare decisis in which the previous rulings (decisions) of a court constitute binding precedent upon the same court or courts of lower status within their jurisdiction.
- Most civil law nations do not have the official doctrine of stare decisis and hence the rulings of the supreme court are usually not binding outside the immediate case in question. However, in practice, the precedent, or jurisprudence constante, expressed by those courts is often extremely strong.
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