#OTD 1866: Constitutional convention approves new article on Judicial Department

On March 23, 1866, the constitutional convention debated amendments to Article IV, concerning the Judicial Department. The entire article ordered to be enrolled after its passage by a vote of 38-28.

Among the new features of the 1866 Constitution, the article on the Judicial Department:

  • Authorized the Legislature to establish county courts and other inferior courts or tribunals (art. IV, § 1), with appellate jurisdiction in cases originating in such courts assigned to the district courts (art. IV, § 6);
  • Provided for county court judges to be elected to 4-year terms (art. IV, § 15), with jurisdiction that included “misdemeanors and petty offences,” civil cases with no more than $500 in controversy, probate of wills, and appointment of guardians (art. IV, § 16);
  • Authorized the Legislature to establish criminal courts “in the principal cities within the State” (art. IV, § 1);
  • Expanded the Supreme Court to “five Justices, any three of whom shall constitute a quorum” (art. IV, § 2), and provided that the justices would be elected to 10-year terms and to elect their own “presiding officer, to be styled the Chief Justice” (art. IV, § 2);
  • Granted the Supreme Court “power, upon affidavits, or otherwise as by the Court may be thought proper, to ascertain such matters of fact as may be necessary to the proper exercise of its jurisdiction” (art. IV, § 3);
  • Established 8-year terms for district courts (art. IV, § 5), and assigned to them original jurisdiction for all suits “to recover damages for slander or defamation of character;” “for the trial of title to land”; “for the enforcement of liens”; and “for the trial of the right of property, levied on by virtue of any writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment, when the properties levied on shall be equal to or exceed in value one hundred dollars” (art. IV, § 6);
  • Gave the governor the power to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court and the district courts (art. IV, § 10);
  • Provided for a district attorney to be elected in each judicial district (art. IV, § 14) and a county clerk to be elected in each county (art. IV, § 18);
  • Provided for election of “a convenient number of Justices of the Peace, who shall have such civil and criminal jurisdiction as shall be provided by law, where the matter in controversy, shall not exceed, in value, one hundred dollars, exclusive of interest” (art. IV, § 19);
  • Preserved the right of trial by jury for “all cases of law or equity, where the matter in controversy shall be valued at, or exceed twenty dollars” (art. IV, § 20).

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