Supreme Court and State Law Library

Supreme Court and State Law Library

Supreme Court

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You are now on the third floor, via the Grand Staircase. This floor houses the Supreme Court Justices' offices, the Supreme Court Clerk's office, the Reporter of Decisions' office, and other support staff.

If you look out the window, you can see down into the courtyard area.

There are nine judges. Eight of them are called "Associate Justice," plus the Chief Justice, who is elected especially to be Chief Justice and has not necessarily been on the Court the longest.

Many cases are decided by Division, each of which consists of a panel of five justices (four justices plus the chief justice). If there is disagreement in Division, the case must be discussed by the full Court. Some cases are always decided by the full Court (e.g., death penalty, etc.).

The Courtroom

We are now entering the Supreme Court Courtroom. This courtroom occupies the central point under the dome and is directly over the rotunda. This room is patterned after the Rotunda Library designed by Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia.

The room is 75' in diameter and 50' to the skylight at the apex of the domed ceiling, which is designed like a planetarium ceiling. Around the perimeter of the room are 12 pairs of classical columns replicating the limestone columns on the building front.

The curved bench is nearly 40' long and is built of the finest mahogany with rich detailing and ornate carving. Inserted behind the wood in the bench (as well as the benches of the other two appellate courts) is a material called Keplar, which is a bulletproof material. The doors directly behind the bench are where the Court enters. On the left side of the bench (as the attorneys are facing it) is the Marshal's station. On the right side of the bench is the Clerk's station. The curved tables facing the bench on each side of the courtroom are where the attorneys for the appellant and appellee sit during oral arguments.

The handcarved seal on the front of the bench is made of mahogany by an architectural woodcarver, Mr. Ralph Gaither, a former Navy pilot, who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War for 7 years and 4 months. After returning to the United States, he learned his woodcarving skills while stationed in California. He now resides in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and teaches at Escambia High School. The seal took about a month to carve; what was particularly difficult was fitting the seal to the curvature of the judicial bench. The center panel of the bench, along with the molding, was loaned to Mr. Gaither to ensure the piece fit perfectly. The seal reads "The Seal of the Supreme Court of Alabama" and is highlighted with gold leaf.

There is seating on the main level for 100 people. The seating in the upper gallery will accommodate 75 people.

Notice the carpet in the center of the courtroom. The carpet is custom-designed by Lee Sims, the building's architect, from the Barganier, Davis, Sims firm in Montgomery. It was hand woven by the Edward Fields, Inc., firm in New York City and took three years to weave, even though the actual construction of the Judicial Building took only two years.

The main principle behind the organization of the building is an imaginary sphere 100' in diameter that incorporates and defines the central Rotunda, Supreme Court Courtroom, and Dome. When counsel argues before the Court at the lectern, he or she is standing at the very center of this sphere.

How the Appellate System Works

The Supreme Court is the court of last resort. The parties have previously litigated in a court below, and the losing party may appeal if it thinks that decision was unjust. The "appellant" is the party who lost or is not satisfied with the decision of the trial court or appellate court below. He or she appeals to the Supreme Court. The "appellee" is the other party, usually the party who prevailed in the lower court.

Cases are decided on the law applicable to the situation, so an appellate judge must do a lot of legal research. Some cases come to the Supreme Court by right (e.g., death penalty, cases involving a large amount of money, appeals from the Public Service Commission), and some by petition. Petitions for a writ of certiorari ("certs") ask the Court to hear a case; the Court has the right to refuse, and usually does so when no new law would be made or when it appears that no injustice has been done. When writs are granted, they are considered like any other case, and an opinion is issued. Sometimes, after reviewing a granted cert, the Court determines that it should not have been granted, and the writ will be quashed as improvidently granted. The cert procedure of our Supreme Court differs from the procedure in the U.S. Supreme Court, where the review of ALL cases is discretionary; U.S. Supreme Court decisions arise from writs granted.

As cases come to the Court, the Clerk's office assigns them in strict rotation to each justice, although the Chief Justice is assigned half as many because he sits on both divisions. The lawyers in some of the cases request oral argument, and the Justice who is assigned the case determines whether or not to grant it. If it is granted, the lawyers argue before the Justices in Supreme Court courtroom.

Each side has 20 minutes to plead his or her case. There is a panel of lights on the lecturn which show the lawyers when time for argument is over.

Oral arguments are open to the public.

How Justices Work

Each Justice has three lawyers or legal assistants to help research cases under his or her direction. The Justice reads the record of what happened in the court below, and reads the briefs that are submitted by the lawyers for each side. The lawyers supply sufficient copies of the briefs for later distribution to each justice. A brief is similar to a term paper in that it sets out the facts and tells the reasons why that party thinks that he or she should win. The brief must meet certain rules, including the color of the cover, the number of pages, what must be contained in it, and how it must be set up.

The Justice in charge of the case drafts an opinion and gives a copy of it, together with a set of the briefs, to each of the other Justices. They meet in the conference room, which is situated behind the courtroom, with nobody else present, and discuss the case. They vote whether to concur (agree) with the draft opinion, to modify it, or to dissent (disagree).

Often, the parties have been waiting weeks or months for this important event in their lives, and those of us who work in this building are very conscious of the duty to serve "Justice" for the people of this State: one constant reminder is the very title "Justice" carried by each Supreme Court judge.

Election of Judges

All appellate judges are elected for six year terms in statewide "at large" elections.


Library Information


The library is located on the first floor of the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building.


Alabama Supreme Court and State Law Library
300 Dexter Avenue Montgomery, AL 36104


The Library is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. except State holidays. (Calendar)

Contact Information

Supreme Court of Alabama
Court of Civil Appeals
Court of Criminal Appeals
State Law Library