The Minnesota Supreme Court heads the judicial system as the highest court in the state and is supported by district, probate, and various lower courts. Three territorial justices were appointed in 1849 by President Zachary Taylor and specifications about the court's role and function were made in the territorial act (see Minnesota Territorial Statutes 1851, chap. 69). At statehood in 1858, the voters elected three justices for seven-year terms, as specified in the state constitution.
The number of justices on the court has fluctuated over time. It reached it's peak of nine in 1973 (Laws of Minn. 1973, chap. 726 sec. 1), but was reduced to seven in 1982 (Laws of Minn. 1982, chap. 501, sec. 16), where it stands today (see Minnesota Statutes, section 480.01). Justices serve six-year terms (Minn. Const. Art. 6 Sec. 7). Justices are elected by the voters of the state on separate non-partisan ballots. Intra-term vacancies are filled by appointment by the governor.
The court's primary purpose is to hear appeals from individuals, companies, and state and local governments that are dissatisfied with the decisions of lower courts or hearing boards, such as the Tax Court. Case records and briefs are filed, then reviewed by the court commissioner before a hearing is set. In most civil cases, a prehearing conference is held between the lawyers involved and one of the justices before an oral hearing is scheduled. The justice recommends whether an oral hearing is in order. At the hearing, the case is presented by the lawyers to the justices, who then confer to come to a decision. The justice assigned to the case prepares an opinion, and circulates it to the other justices for their approval. If there is any disagreement, a dissenting opinion must be written by those opposed. No decision is final until it is agreed upon by a majority. The final decision can uphold, reverse, or modify the lower court ruling; and if reversed or modified, the case must often return to the lower court from which it was appealed for a new trial. About half of the court's cases come as special term appeals, often emergency measures, to order a lower court to some action or to prevent a lower court from ordering an action that might be harmful in the appellant's view. Besides hearing appeals, the court also oversees the judicial system in the state and regulates the practice of law. The court is authorized to execute its own decisions, and may prescribe or modify rules of practice for all of the courts. It is empowered to interpret and apply the state constitution and U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court is the only avenue of appeal beyond the court's decision.
The court must consult an advisory committee, consisting of eight bar members and at least two lower court justices, before adopting any rules. The court may solicit recommendations concerning rules from the judicial council, consisting of various justices from state courts and members of the bar. Rules become effective at a time fixed by the court, and opinions are published in the official reports of the court and as appendices to the statutes. Opinions are also published in various legal and daily newspapers, and in the Northwestern Reporter, which contains supreme court cases from Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The administrative staff of the court consists of a clerk to maintain journals, judgment books, and other records; a reporter to report the decisions of all cases to be printed and published; and other necessary personnel. The justices appoint a librarian to maintain and direct the State Law Library. The court appoints a Board of Law Examiners to administer rules relating to general requirements and examinations of applicants to the bar, and to admit successful applicants to the practice of law. The court monitors attorneys through yearly registration, required[s] continuing education credits, and investigations of complaints of unethical or incompetent practice. The court may suspend or remove attorneys or judges who have violated ethical standards.