Sec.11. The supreme court is generally the next higher, and in most of the states, the highest state court. This court differs somewhat in the different states, both in the manner of its formation and in its jurisdiction. It is believed, however, to have, in the states generally, both original and appellate jurisdiction, civil and criminal. In the state of New York and a few other states, there is one higher court, called court of appeals, which has appellate power only. Its business is to review cases from the supreme court.
Sec.12. Suits in the county, circuit, and supreme courts, are commenced by a writ, (in some states a summons or a declaration,) which is served by the sheriff of the county in which the suit is to be tried. He also serves warrants and executions issued by these courts. A sheriff is to these courts what a constable is to a justice’s court. His powers and duties have been elsewhere described. (Chap. XIV., Sec.8.)
Chancery or Equity Courts; Probate Courts; Court of Impeachment.
Sec.1. It might be supposed, that in instituting the courts which have been described, all necessary provision had been made for securing justice to the citizens. But many cases arise in which justice and equity can not be obtained in these courts. To afford relief in such cases, a court has been established called a court of equity, or court of chancery. What often renders it impossible to get justice in ordinary courts of law, is the want of witnesses; but in a court of equity the parties may themselves be put on oath.
Sec.2. A debtor, to avoid the payment of his debts, may conceal his property or his money; but this court may compel him to disclose and give up the same to satisfy an execution; and it may prevent persons indebted to him from making payment to him. A person refusing to fulfill a contract may, in courts of common law, only be sued for damage; but this court may in certain cases compel him to fulfill the contract itself. It may also restrain individuals and corporations from committing fraudulent acts, and prevent persons from committing wastes on land and certain other injuries, until the right at law can be tried.
Sec.3. Courts of chancery were established, it is believed, in a majority of the old states. But separate and distinct organizations called chancery courts, now exist in but a few states; the power to try suits in equity having been given to the judges of the common law courts.
Sec.4. Suits in equity are not commenced as suits at law. The plaintiff prepares a bill of complaint, the facts stated in which are sworn to by himself. The bill, which contains a petition or prayer that the defendant may be summoned to make answer on oath, is filed with the clerk of the court, who issues a subpoena commanding the defendant to appear before the court on a day named. A trial may be had on the complaint and answer alone; or witnesses may be introduced by the parties. The case is argued by counsel, and a decree is pronounced by the court, which the court has power to carry into effect.