The structure of the state court system varies from state to state. In general, however, state courts follow the federal pattern. This means that most states have one state supreme court, which makes final decisions on cases involving state laws and provisions of the state constitution. Texas and Oklahoma, however, have two highest courts—one for civil cases and the other for criminal cases. State courts decide nearly every type of case but are limited by the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, their own state constitution, and state law.
Below the state supreme court in the state judicial hierarchy are the intermediate appellate courts. Only 35 of the 50 states have intermediate appellate courts. Where such courts do not exist, cases appealed from the trial courts go directly to the state supreme court. Each state has trial courts with general jurisdiction, meaning that they try civil and criminal cases. They go by various names, such as circuit court, district court, or court of common pleas. New York’s court of general jurisdiction is called the supreme court. Although these courts are of general jurisdiction, some states divide them according to specialty areas, such as probate, juvenile, and domestic relations.
At the base of the state judicial hierarchy are lower courts, such as county courts, justice of the peace courts, and municipal courts. They have limited jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases and also decide cases involving local ordinances passed by county or city governments. Unlike federal court judges, who are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, a great majority of state court judges are elected.