Supreme Court

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Supreme Court


a state’s highest judicial institution. The establishment of supreme courts in the modern sense is associated with the end of the 19th century (the founding of an imperial court in Germany in 1877).

In modern bourgeois states supreme courts generally have jurisdiction in the settlement of disputes between the nation’s independent constituent parts (states, territories, cantons, and so forth). They also consider criminal cases involving high officials as well as cases concerning the most serious state crimes. In addition, the supreme court is usually the highest appellate authority to which the judicial decisions of all the nation’s lower courts may be appealed. In some countries (for example, the USA), the supreme court has the additional function of interpreting the constitution and deciding (in connection with specific cases) whether laws passed by the Congress, the states, and federal governmental organs are in accord with the constitution. In other countries (for example, the Federal Republic of Germany) these functions are divided, and there is a special constitutional court as well as a supreme court.

There are some special features in the organization and activity of supreme courts in African and Asian nations that have started on the path of independent development. For example, in the Republic of Senegal there is the Supreme Appellate Court with jurisdiction over the whole country and the Supreme Court (consisting of members of Parliament as well as judges) that considers cases involving crimes committed by high officials (the president of the republic and his ministers), as well as other cases of exceptional importance.

In socialist countries the supreme court, as the state’s highest judicial organ and defender of the interests of the toiling masses, has new organizational forms of activity that are in keeping with democratic principles of the administration of justice. As the court of first instance it considers cases of particular importance. It also supervises the activity of all other courts and publishes guiding explanations on questions of judicial practice and the application of laws by the courts. In Poland, for example, a law passed in 1962 established the Supreme Court consisting of chambers (divisions). There are civil, criminal, and military chambers as well as chambers dealing with labor affairs and social security. The minister of justice is the administrative and organizational director of the district and województwo (provincial) courts. Military tribunals are supervised by the military chamber of the Supreme Court. In addition, the Supreme Court supervises judicial activity. In most socialist countries the functions and structure of the supreme courts are analogous. In Yugoslavia, where there is a constitutional court as well as a supreme court, the structure of the highest judicial organs has certain special features.


Konstitutsii burzhuaznykh gosudarstv Evropy. Moscow. 1957.
Archer, P. Angliiskaia sudebnaia sistema. Moscow, 1959.
Il’inskii, I. P., and B. V. Shchetinin. Gosudarstvennoe pravo burzhuaznykh stran. Edited by I. Levin and B. Krylov. Moscow, 1962.


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The Supreme Court can accept or reject other cases from lower federal or state courts.
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63 See, generally, Lawrence Friedman, Robert Kagan, Bliss Cartwright, and Stanton Wheeler, "State Supreme Courts: A Century of Style and Citation," Stanford Law Review 33 (May 1981): 773-818; S.
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