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The Judicial Branch

 West Virginia Facts

The Judicial Branch

The third branch of government is the judicial branch. The judiciary is made up of courts - supreme, circuit, the magistrate (local) and municipal (city) courts. The judicial branch interprets the laws.

The state judges are elected by the citizens rather than being appointed. They also run for their office as members of a political party.

The duties of the judicial branch include:  
  • Interpreting state laws;
  • Settling legal disputes;
  • Punishing violators of the law;
  • Hearing civil cases;
  • Protecting individual rights granted by the state constitution;
  • Determining the guilt or innocence of those accused of violating the criminal laws of the state; and,
  • Acting as a check upon the legislative and executive branches of state government.

The Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest court in West Virginia and supervises the lower courts. It comprises five judges who are elected for twelve-year terms by the voters. The Supreme Court is required to meet twice a year, in January and in September, and may hold special terms when necessary. The Supreme Court has the authority to determine if state laws and actions of state officials, including the governor, are constitutional. Laws and executive orders cannot be enforced if they violate the state constitution.

Most cases brought before the Supreme Court are appeals that have been tried in the circuit or magistrate courts. Once a decision has been made by the Supreme Court, that is the final decision, with the exception of conflicts between state and federal laws, which may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Of the five Supreme Court justices, one is selected to be the chief justice. The selection process is a rotation among the five justices, each who serve as the chief justice for one year. The chief justice's duties include submitting a budget to the Legislature, and according to the state constitution, the Supreme Court will be appropriated for whatever amount it requests. The chief justice also assigns justices to write opinions and decisions of the court.