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The Constitution of 1846 abolished the Supreme Court as it then existed, and established a new one, having general jurisdiction in law and equity. The State is divided into eight Judicial Districts, in each of which four Justices are elected, except in the First (comprising the city of New York), where there are five. Although elected in districts, the jurisdiction of each Justice extends to every part of the State. The official term of Justices of the Supreme Court is fourteen years from the first day of January next after their election; but no person can hold such office longer than until the last day of December next after he shall be seventy years of age. They can hold no other office or public trust. If a vacancy occurs more than three months before a general election, it is filled at such election for a full term; but if it happen within three months of a general election, then it is filled by appointment of the Governor, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate if that body be in session, or if not in session, of the Governor alone.
The salaries of the Justices of this Court are $6,000 per annum; besides which they receive an annual allowance of $1200 for their expenses (except in the First Judicial District).
The Justices of the Second Judicial District (except those residing in the county of Kings) receive an annual allowance of $2500 in lieu of expenses.
The Supreme Court possesses the powers and exercises the jurisdictión possessed and exercised by the Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery and the Circuit Court prior to the Constitution of 1846, so far as the same were consistent with that Constitution and the Judiciary act of 1847; that is to say, it has general jurisdiction in law and equity, and of all actions, civil and criminal.
Courts of first instance, or for the. trial of issues of fact
in civil cases, are held by one Justice, and are called Circuit Courts; while courts for the trial of criminal cases are held by one Justice and two Justices of Sessions elected by the electors of the county where the court is held, and are called Courts of Oyer and Terminer. The Circuit Court and the Courts of Oyer and Terminer are held on the same day and continue for the same time, and the business of either is transacted as the occasion may require, the only difference being that when criminal business is transacted the Justices of Sessions must also be on the bench. A Special Term is also held in connection with each Circuit, whereat questions of law are determined.
The eight Judicial Districts of the State are again divided into four Judicial Departments, in each of which there is organized a General Term of the Supreme Court, each of which is composed of a Presiding Justice and two Associate Justices, who are selected by the Governor from the whole number of Justices of the State. The Presiding Justice holds offiee as such during his judicial term, and the Associate Justices for five years, unless their judicial term sooner expires.
A General Term is held in each Judicial District of the Department at least once a year, and has jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from the judgments and orders of the Circuit Courts, the Special Terms, the Courts of Oyer and Terminer and the County Courts within the Department. Appeals lie to the Court of Appeals from the orders and judgments of the General Term in certain cases specified by Statutes
The County Clerks of the several counties are clerks of the Supreme Court in their respective counties, and the seals of such County Clerks are the seals of the Court.
To entitle any person to admission as an attorney of the Supreme Court, he must be a citizen of the United States, twenty-one years of age, a resident of the Department within which he applies for admission, of good moral character, must have served a clerkship of three years in the office of a practicing attorney of the Supreme Court, and must pass a satisfactory examination by a committee appointed by the Court. An allowance of one year on the
clerkship is made to graduates of colleges and universities, and of so much additional time, not exceeding one year to such graduates, or two years to non-graduates, as was actually spent in attendance upon law lectures in any law school of the State. Under this rule one year at least must be spent in a law office. At the expiration of two years after the admission of a person as an attorney, he may apply to the General Term for examination as a counselor. Attorneys are permitted to appear and try causes in the County Courts, but not in the Circuit Courts, or courts of Oyer and Terminer, or Special Terms, or the Superior City Courts.
Members of the bar of other States may be admitted as attorneys and counselors after one year's clerkship in an office in this State; but if the applicant's term of clerkship and practice in the other State, together with the year's clerkship in this State, shall not equal five years, then the applicant can only be licensed as an attorney.