Delaware and North Carolina legislatures address whether state supreme courts can sit outside of the capital

While a variety of state courts of last resort meet from time to time outside of their normal chambers in the state’s capital, there remains statutes, and in some cases constitutional provisions, that effectively tie the high courts to a particular city or place. As I pointed out in this item after Hurricane Katrina, it was and is somewhat of an open question in a variety of states whether the courts can move. This year legislatures in Delaware and North Carolina passed legislation to address this issue.

In Delaware, an 1852 statute specifies the “The Supreme Court shall be held at Dover“. However, the Supreme Court has been hearing oral arguments in locations other than Dover since at least the 1980s.

HB 113 of 2015 provides specifically that the Supreme Court may meet outside of Dover “when the Court determines that the education of the Bar or law students, or the public interest would be advanced by having a special session of the Court in another location.” The bill was approved unanimously in the House June 18 and unanimously in the Senate June 30. It is set to be transmitted to the governor.

North Carolina’s Supreme Court may be having a “Back to the Future” moment with legislation this year allowing it to return to sit in Morganton for the first time in 150 years. A 1997 law (HB 954) already allowed the Supreme Court to sit twice annually in Old Chowan County Courthouse in the Town of Edenton, the colonial capital of North Carolina. HB 283 and SB 161 both allow the Supreme Court “by rule [to] hold sessions not more than twice annually in the City of Morganton; unless a more suitable site is identified by the court, the court shall meet in the Old Burke County Courthouse, the location of summer sessions of the Supreme Court from 1847?1862.” This article written in 1919 on the 100th anniversary of the court details some of the sittings. The Senate version of the bill was signed into law by that state’s governor on June 19.