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Pennsylvania State Archives


The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania evolved from the Provincial Court and was officially created by an act of the Provincial Assembly in 1722. It is composed of seven justices elected to ten-year terms. The justice with the longest continuous service presides as chief justice. Vacancies on the court are filled by gubernatorial appointment, subject to Senate confirmation or by election. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, like the United States Supreme Court, exercises discretion in accepting or rejecting applications for allowance of appeal, allowing it to devote greater attention to cases of far-reaching impact as well as to its constitutional obligation to administer the entire judicial system.

The Supreme Courtís jurisdiction encompasses four main areas: original, appellate, exclusive, and extraordinary. The Supreme Court holds original (but not exclusive) jurisdiction in cases of habeas corpus, mandamus (prohibition to courts of inferior jurisdiction), and quo war ranto concerning any officer of statewide jurisdiction. The Supreme Courtís appellate jurisdiction includes those cases it hears at its own discretion and various types of cases heard as a matter of right. These latter cases include appeals of cases originating in Commonwealth Court and appeals of certain final orders issued by either the Court of Common Pleas or specific constitutional and judicial agencies.

The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction of appeals from the the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, the Minor Judiciary Education Board, the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, and, to a limited degree, the Court of Judicial Discipline. The court also has exclusive jurisdiction of appeals from the Court of Common Pleas involving the death penalty. Such cases are automatically appealed to the Supreme Court. Under its power of extraordinary jurisdiction, the court may assume jurisdiction of any case pending before a lower court involving an issue of immediate public importance. This it can do on its own or upon petition from any party.

The Constitution of 1968, in establishing the Unified Judicial System (UJS), gave the Supreme Court broad supervisory and administrative powers which included maintaining a single, integrated judicial system and establishing rules governing the practices and conduct of all State Courts. This new authority resulting in the creation of the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) to function as the administrative arm of the Court.

A more detailed history of the Supreme Court and Pennsylvania judicial history is available.

Other courts whose records appear in this record group are the Court of Admiralty, the Courts of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery, and the High Court of Errors. For records of other courts within the UJS, see Records of the Superior Court (RG-38), Records of the Commonwealth Court (RG-63), and Records of Special Courts (RG-62) (Common Pleas Courts; Philadelphia Municipal Court; Philadelphia Traffic Court; and magisterial district courts).

Eastern District

Lancaster District (1809-1834)

Middle District

Northern District (1834-1886)

Southern District (1809-1834)

Western District

Office of the Prothonotary and Deputy Prothonotary

Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) (1969-)

Court of Admiralty (1776-1789)

Courts of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery

High Court of Errors (1780-1806)

Judicial Inquiry and Review Board (JIRB) (1968-1993)

Last processing update: 9/29/2011, acc. #5477

PA State Archives Hours, Directions, & Fees Research Topics Finding Aids for Collections Land Records