Nevada’s Supreme Court has been overburdened for decades as it struggles to provide the public with speedy access to justice in the face of an ever growing population. The increasing backlog of cases is prolonging justice in Nevada. Currently, 56 percent of all appeals require more than six months to be heard, with 29 percent taking more than one year. As a consequence justice is being delayed in the Silver State.
Nevada is one of only 10 states lacking a separate court of appeals and, of those 10 states, it has the highest population. The lack of a court of appeals means that the Nevada Supreme Court must decide all appeals including those involving driver’s license revocations and inmate disputes over the quality of their food or clothing. In 2012, there were 2,500 new appeals filed, which does not include the backlog from prior years. What that means is each of the seven justices must reach a disposition on 357 cases each year, almost one per day, in order to avoid further backlog. This is the highest caseload per justice in the nation.
As a result of this heavy caseload, the Supreme Court must resolve most appeals through unpublished orders that bind only the parties in a single case, instead of published opinions that establish statewide precedent for all future cases. In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued published opinions in only 3 to 4 percent of all cases. The lack of published opinions can lead to the same issues being litigated repeatedly. Although Nevada’s Supreme Court has tried to manage and reduce its caseload through technological and procedural measures, more needs to be done to make the justice system work better for both citizens and businesses.
This ballot measure would create a Court of Appeals to decide some of the cases currently decided by the Supreme Court. The court would function under a “push down” system, where all appeals would still be filed with the Supreme Court, but certain types of cases would then get pushed down to the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court would establish the types of District Court decisions to be heard by the Court of Appeals and would also determine when a Court of Appeals decision may be reviewed by the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals would consist of three judges, initially appointed by the Governor and thereafter elected to six-year terms at the general election.
Adding a Court of Appeals would have minimal fiscal impact on Nevada. The Court of Appeals will be housed in existing courtrooms and offices in Northern and Southern Nevada, which avoids the need for any capital costs. Additionally, because all appeals would still be filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Court, there would be no added bureaucracy. The operating cost is limited to the salaries for judges and staff, which the 2013 Legislature has provisionally approved.
Most importantly, a Court of Appeals would provide more timely access to justice for Nevadans and a more stable business climate that fosters the growth of existing and new businesses. More published opinions would provide much needed legal clarity to the Nevada business community. And, more certainty for businesses means more jobs for Nevadans. It would also promote a quicker resolution of all cases, including such personal and time-sensitive matters as foreclosure mediation and business disputes. In sum, a “yes” vote for the establishment of a Court of Appeals will enable Nevada’s court system to meet the demands of the twenty-first century and provide citizens and businesses with an improved level of appellate review already available in 40 other states.
Justice James W. Hardesty, Supreme Court of Nevada