New York State Supreme Court

By Chapter 4 of the Laws of 1691, the New York Assembly established the New York Supreme Court of Judicature with the same common law jurisdiction as the English Courts of King’s Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer. The court did not have jurisdiction in equity — that jurisdiction was vested in the Court of Chancery. The Supreme Court of Judicature was continued under the 1777 Constitution. Under the 1846 Constitution, the equity jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery became vested in the New York Supreme Court, which from then on possessed general common law and equity jurisdiction.

Background

The proper basis and foundation for the present Supreme Court of the State of New York, as declared in the Code of Civil Procedure, subject to constitutional limitations, is “all the jurisdiction which was possessed and exercised by the Supreme Court of the Colony of New York, at any time” (Henry Wilson Scott, infra, p 122).

The Supreme Court of Judicature was established in 1691 and replaced the Court of Assize established in 1667 in the administration of Governor Francis Lovelace and the Court of Oyer and Terminer instituted by Governor Dongan in 1683. The Act of 1691 provided:

[T]he Supreme Court is hereby fully empowered and authorized to have cognizance of all pleas, civil, criminal and mixed, so fully and amply to all intents and purposes whatsoever, as the courts of Kings Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer, within their “Majesties” Kingdom of England have or ought to have; in and to which Supreme Court all and every person and persons whatsoever shall or may, if they shall so see meet, commence or remove any action or suit, the deed or damage in any such action or suit being upwards of twenty pounds, and not otherwise, or shall or may by warrant, writ of error or certiorari, remove out of any of the respective courts of Mayor and Aldermen, Sessions and Common Pleas, judgment, information or indictment there had or depending, and may correct errors in judgment, or reverse the same, if by just cause, provided always that the judgment removed shall be upwards of the value of twenty pounds (Henry Wilson Scott, infra, p 123).

The Constitution of 1777 perpetuated the Supreme Court, changing only the provisions relating to the appointment, qualification and tenure of the judges.

The Constitution of 1846 provided for a Supreme Court with general jurisdiction in law and equity, and reserved to the Legislature the same power to alter and regulate the jurisdiction and proceedings in law and equity as they have heretofore possessed. This new Constitution (1) abolished the Court of Chancery and transferred its jurisdiction to the Supreme Court; (2) abolished the circuit judge system and vested the justices of the Supreme Court with full power to preside at circuits, at special term, and in general term; and (3) provided that the Supreme Court was to be a single court and not a specified and distinct number of courts, administering justice independently, by judicial districts. An appeal lay from decisions of the Supreme to the newly-established Court of Appeals.

 

Sources

Duely & Constantly Kept: A History of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, 1691-1847.

Henry Wilson Scott. The Courts of the State of New York: Their History, Development and Jurisdiction (1909).

Charles Zebina Lincoln. The Constitutional History of New York (1906).

 

The Supreme Court of the State of New York,
Two-Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary (1691-1941)
Duely & Constantly Kept: A History of the New York Supreme Court, 1691-1847 Looking Back on a Glorious Past, 1691-1991
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