Throughout the history of the State, the court system has gone through a variety of iterations before ending on the current structure we know today. Below, you can find information about the State’s current and past courts, from before the inception of the State until today.
Learn more about the history of our courts through our publications.
“Duely & Constantly Kept”: A History of the New York Supreme Court, 1691-1847
“There Shall Be a Court of Appeals…”
Court of Appeals Hall: Construction, Restoration & Renovation
The State's Highest Court The 1846 NYS Constitution drew a distinction between the trial of impeachments and the review of cases on appeal, and established two separate courts a Court for the Trial of Impeachments and a Court of Appeals until 1869. Today, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest-level court, hears civil and criminal appeals from the state’s intermediate appellate courts and, in some instances, directly from the trial courts. Article VI, section 2, of the Constitution of 1846, ...Read More
Created by the New York State Constitution of 1896, the four regional Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court are the intermediate appellate courts in the State, divided into four departments for the sake of judicial efficiency. They are the first level of appeal from the courts of original jurisdiction. To celebrate its centennial in 1996, each Department produced a commemorative book that documents its rich and distinctive court history. We plan to provide the architectural history of the courthouses where ...Read More
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 ...Read More
The New York State Court of Claims is the exclusive forum for civil litigation seeking damages against the State of New York and certain other State-related entities. This excerpt from the New York State Library's publication The New York State Court Of Claims: Its History, Jurisdiction and Reports gives the history of the court from the first general statutory provision for claims against the State, the Erie Canal Act of 1817. The New York State Court of Claims: Its History, ...Read More
The Surrogate's Courts are statutory courts that were established by chapter 38 of the Laws of 1787. The Surrogate’s Court, one in each county, has jurisdiction in probate and administration of estates within the county. Surrogate’s Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the Family Court and the Supreme Court over guardianships of the person and property of infants. Family and Surrogate’s Courts have concurrent jurisdiction over adoption proceedings ...Read More
Defunct State Courts
The jurisdiction of these courts was transferred to other courts, culminating in the existing courts of today. For colonial courts, see the Dutch and English Colonial Eras.
The 1777 Constitution continued in existence the Provincial Court of Chancery and Robert R. Livingston was appointed New York’s first Chancellor. During the early decades of the State, the Court of Chancery was one of the pre-eminent courts in the United States. In May, 1788, the Council of Appointment was authorized to appoint masters and examiners in Chancery. In 1814, the office of vice-chancellor for New York City was authorized and a court reporter was appointed . The Constitution of ...Read More
In New York City, 1683-1962 The Court of General Sessions was a county court established on October 17, 1683 by the first Assembly in New York. Initially the court was known as the Court of Quarter Sessions and had both civil and criminal jurisdiction. In 1691, the court’s jurisdiction was confined to all felony cases not punishable by death or life imprisonment. The Court of General Sessions was abolished in all counties except New York by the Constitution of 1846, ...Read More
The Court of Common Pleas was established by the Dongan Charter of 1686. Also known as the Mayor’s Court, it was a civil court with jurisdiction limited to the City of New York. In 1691, the court’s jurisdiction was extended throughout the State and the court was continued under the Constitution of 1777. Under the Constitution of 1846, the court’s jurisdiction was again restricted to the City of New York and it was given appellate jurisdiction from orders of the ...Read More
On November 25, 1775, the Continental Congress recommended that the Colonies establish Courts of Admiralty to address cases relating to captures at sea, and in response to the Second New York Provincial Congress, established the High Court of Admiralty of the State of New York. Lewis Graham was appointed judge of this court and it continued in existence until its jurisdiction was preempted under the Federal Constitution in 1789. United States admiralty jurisdiction is exercised by the District Courts of ...Read More
The Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors was established by the Constitution of 1777. Commonly called the Court of Errors, it was the court of final appeal and replaced the Provincial right of final appeal to the Crown in London. The Court heard appeals from the New York Court of Chancery and the New York Supreme Court of Judicature, and its bench consisted of the President of the New York Senate, the New York Senators and ...Read More
The Probate Court was established in 1778. Initially, it exercised the prerogative powers of the colonial Governor but later its original jurisdiction was confined to cases where the deceased was absent from the State at the time of death, or was a non-resident who died within the State. When the Surrogates’ Courts were establish in 1787, the Probate Court gained appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the Surrogates’ Courts. The Probate Court was abolished in 1823 and its jurisdiction was transferred ...Read More
In 1786, the Justices of the Supreme Court of Judicature were directed to hold sessions of the Circuit Court in the counties to which they were assigned. Individual justices heard all civil cases triable within an assigned county and the court records were returned to the Supreme Court where final judgment was rendered. The Circuit Court was abolished by the Constitution of 1894 and its jurisdiction was transferred to the New York Supreme Court ...Read More
In 1788, the justices were required to convene criminal courts (Oyer and Terminer) during the terms of the Circuit Court. The Court of Oyer and Terminer consisted of a Supreme Court Justice and two or more judges of the Court of Common Pleas with jurisdiction to hear all felony cases including those punishable by life imprisonment or death. Under the Constitution of 1821, Circuit Court judges presided in the Courts of Oyer and Terminer outside New York City and had ...Read More
The Marine Court was initially known as the Justices’ Court and was established in New York City in 1807. In 1813, it became a court of record, was required to hold its sessions in City Hall and was awarded a court seal. In 1817, the court was granted jurisdiction to confiscate ships and vessels for marine debts, and in 1819, the court was renamed the Marine Court of the City of New York. The Marine Court’s jurisdiction included monetary claims ...Read More
In New York City, bank failures and the conspiracy cases of 1826 caused severe calendar congestion in the Supreme Court and in the Court of Common Pleas. In response, the Legislature enacted a law establishing the Superior Court of the City of New York. It has civil jurisdiction coequal to the Supreme Court if either the plaintiff or defendant were a resident of the City of New York or if the case involved property located within the City limits. The ...Read More