Supreme Court of Missouri

207 West High Street
Jefferson City, Missouri 65101
Phone: (573) 751-4144

The Supreme Court of Missouri has been the state's highest court since 1820, when the first Missouri constitution was adopted. The Supreme Court's role is to ensure a stable and predictable system of justice by serving as the final arbiter of disputes involving the state's constitution and laws. As such, it hears and decides many of the most important – and often the most controversial – legal issues affecting Missouri citizens, businesses, organizations and even factions of government.

What cases does the Supreme Court hear?
Missouri voters have approved changes in the state's constitution to give the Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction – the sole legal power to hear – five types of cases on appeal. Pursuant to article V, section 3 of the state's constitution, these cases involve:
  • The validity of a United States statute or treaty.
  • The validity of a Missouri statute or constitutional provision.
  • The state's revenue laws.
  • Challenges to a statewide elected official's right to hold office.
  • Imposition of the death penalty.
Unless their case involves one of those five issues, people who want a trial court's decision reviewed must appeal to the Missouri court of appeals. Most of these cases involve routine legal questions and end there.

Certain cases, however, can be transferred to the Supreme Court at the Court's discretion if it determines that a question of general interest or importance is involved, that the laws should be re-examined, or that the lower court's decision conflicts with an earlier appellate decision. This is similar to the process the United States Supreme Court uses in choosing cases.

How does the Supreme Court decide cases?
Once the Supreme Court accepts a case, the lawyers give the Court a written copy of the trial court proceedings, called the "record on appeal." Then they write lengthy, detailed documents – ironically called "briefs" – arguing their points and providing legal support for them. Next, the attorneys typically argue the merits of their cases orally before the Supreme Court (which the public is welcome to attend). The Court considers these briefs and arguments in researching and deciding the cases.

Each year, the Supreme Court issues nearly 100 written opinions. Preparing to issue a single opinion can require weeks or even months of work. The Supreme Court can transfer the case back to the court of appeals, affirm the trial court’s decision, reverse the trial court's decision or remand (send) the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. If the Court finds that a statute violates the constitution, then the general assembly can change the law to resolve the constitutional problem.

What other duties does the Supreme Court of Missouri have?
In addition to making legal decisions, the Supreme Court supervises all the lower state courts with the assistance of its Office of State Courts Administrator, which oversees court programs, provides technical assistance, manages the Judiciary's budget, and conducts educational programs for judicial personnel. The Supreme Court also makes detailed practice and procedure rules that ensure uniform handling of Missouri court cases, including times for filing motions and admitting evidence. In addition, the Supreme Court licenses all attorneys practicing in Missouri, maintains official roll of attorneys and disciplines lawyers and judges for violating ethical rules of conduct.