Clerk of the Arizona Supreme Court

Guide to Arizona Supreme Court Oral Arguments

Welcome to the Arizona Supreme Court, our state's highest court. The following information is a brief overview of what you can expect to see if you watch a Supreme Court oral argument, or visit the Arizona State Courts Building. Go to Oral Argument Calendar

THE ORAL ARGUMENT

An oral argument is a discussion of the facts and the law involved in a case being appealed.

In most cases, the Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction. This means the court may refuse to review the findings of the lower court even though a party (the plaintiff or defendant in the original case) has filed a petition for review. However, first degree murder cases in which the trial judge has sentenced a defendant to death automatically come to the Supreme Court for review.

In addition to petitions for review and direct appeals (death sentences and election appeals), the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over special actions (e.g., an injunction, habeas corpus, etc.), certified questions, water cases and disciplinary matters of the State Bar of Arizona. The court also serves as the final decision making body when disciplinary recommendations are filed against Arizona judges by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The justices usually sit en banc (all five justices), but they also may sit in division (a panel of three or four justices). On occasion, a justice may remove (recuse) himself or herself from a case because of a prior connection to the case or a conflict of interest. When this happens, a judge from another court can be asked to sit with the court.

Before a case is argued to the court, the justices review  any briefs filed in previous proceedings. These documents give the parties’ arguments and assist the justices in deciding the case. During oral argument, each side has a specific amount of time, set by the court, in which to present its arguments. The person who asked the court to review the case usually speaks first,  and can reserve part of their time to speak after the other party has finished their argument.

When the argument ends, the justices retire to their conference room to discuss the case and vote on how it should be resolved. A majority vote decides the case. The Chief Justice assigns the case to a justice who will write the opinion of the majority. Decisions of the court must be in writing. As the opinion writing progresses, the authoring justice circulates drafts of the opinion among the other justices for review and comment.

Once an opinion is completed and signed by all justices, it is filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Court and released to the public.

COURTROOM PARTICIPANTS

It will be helpful if you understand the role of the people you see in the courtroom.

The Justices: The justices will enter from the right side of the courtroom in the order in which their chairs and name plates are placed at the bench. The Chief Justice sits in the middle, with the Vice Chief Justice to his or her right and the next most senior member to the Chief Justice’s left. The newest members of the court are seated to the far right and far left of the Chief Justice.

The Bailiff: A Deputy Clerk from the Clerk’s Office is designated as the bailiff for the oral arguments. The bailiff sits at a table to the left of the bench and is responsible for setting up the courtroom and operating the time clocks and tape recorder. When the justices are ready to enter the courtroom, the bailiff raps a gavel twice, signaling all in the courtroom to stand until the justices are seated. The bailiff will rap the gavel again so that everyone may be seated as the justices sit. When the argument is finished, the bailiff will rap the gavel indicating that the audience should rise while the justices exit.

The Attorneys: On arriving at the Arizona State Courts Building, the attorneys scheduled to argue a case sign in with the Clerk’s Office to notify the court that they are present. The attorneys sit at tables to the left and right of the lectern; the appellant on the left and the appellee on the right. When they address the court, they step to the lectern. Two clocks on the lectern indicate the allotted time each attorney has for argument.

The attorney may be interrupted by questions from the justices. These questions help the justices clarify the issues for later discussion in conference. If there are many interruptions, the Chief Justice may extend the allotted time to allow the attorney to finish the points of the argument.

The Security Officer: An armed, uniformed security officer is always present when court is in session. The officer’s job is to ensure orderliness among the spectators and to carry out any special duties requested by the Chief Justice.

ETIQUETTE

Dress is business attire. No hats may be worn in the courtroom. Please turn off pagers, cellular telephones, cameras or other electronic equipment while in  the courtroom. These items may be left with the receptionist and retrieved when you depart.

You may enter or leave the courtroom at any time during the arguments, however, there may be a brief recess between oral arguments; please try to enter or leave the courtroom during this time. Please speak softly in the lobby immediately outside the courtroom when court is in session.

MEDIA

Members of the news media are often present at oral arguments. Major cases may attract television cameras. Special areas of the courtroom are wired to accommodate these needs, but only one television station is allowed to have a camera in the courtroom. "Pool" video is available for other stations, as is a direct audio feed.

Arizona Supreme Court News Media Contacts and Protocols

There may be a brief recess between oral arguments. You may enter or leave the courtroom at any time during an argument, however, please do so as quietly as possible.

ABOUT THE ARIZONA COURTS BUILDING

The Arizona State Courts Building is the seat of the third branch of government, the judicial branch. It houses both the Arizona Supreme Court and the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division I (Division II of the Arizona Court of Appeals is located in Tucson). The Supreme Court courtroom, the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office, judicial suites and related offices are located on the fourth floor. The Court of Appeals has two courtrooms and its Clerk’s Office on the second floor. The Court of Appeals’ judicial suites and other offices are on the third floor. The building also houses the Administrative Office of the Courts. In addition to the courtrooms and offices, there is a teleconference studio that was developed in partnership with the Arizona Department of Education. The staff produces video teleconferences that are broadcast via satellite and can be received nationwide. This method of reaching Arizona’s judicial branch saves the state both travel time and money and is an effective way to communicate with the court community.

The building was dedicated on January 29, 1991, with retired U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger providing the keynote speech. 

In March 1991, the first occupants moved into the 257,200 square foot building, which might have been 14 stories tall had it not been designed so that it would not be taller than the State Capitol.

The quotation on the front of the building, “Where law ends, tyranny begins,” was made by Lord Chatham (William Pitt) to the British House of Lords in January 1770. The full quotation reads: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it: and this I know, my lords, that where law ends, tyranny begins!”