The Tennessee Court System is made up of courts of limited jurisdiction, trial courts, intermediate appellate courts and the Supreme Court.
Tennessee Courts of Limited Jurisdiction
Tennessee has 17 judges sitting for Juvenile Courts throughout the state. These courts hear cases regarding paternity questions, mental health and juvenile delinquency cases.
The General Sessions Courts have 154 total judges and conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases and oversee civil cases, domestic relations, estate administration, small claims, misdemeanor cases, drunk driving, traffic and juvenile cases.
Municipal Courts have a total of 228 judges and conduct preliminary felony hearings and oversee traffic and municipal violation cases.
Tennessee Trial Courts
Probate Courts have two judges and administer estates and wills, guardianships and conservatorships. Chancery Courts have a total of 34 judges and hear domestic relation cases and civil cases. Circuit Courts have 85 judges total and hear criminal cases, civil cases and domestic relation cases. The Criminal Courts have 33 judges and hear all criminal cases in their district.
Tennessee Intermediate Appellate Courts
The Court of Appeals serves as an intermediate appellate court for cases appealed after decisions are handed down from Probate Courts, Chancery Courts and Circuit Courts. This court mainly hears civil cases, juvenile appeals and administrative agency appeals. There are 12 judges in the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Criminal Appeals hears appeals from the Circuit Courts and Criminal Courts, and has 12 judges. This court hears capital cases, criminal appeals and juvenile appeals.
Tennessee Supreme Court
As the court of last resort in the state, the Supreme Court has five justices and serves as the high appellate court for appeals from both the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals. This includes both civil and criminal case appeals. Panels of judges are assigned to hear workers' compensation appeals at this level.
Tennessee Notable Court Cases
In 1925, in State of Tennessee v. Scopes, a teacher by the name of John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution and fined $100. Though the Supreme Court overturned his conviction and fine, the law remained on the books for years that teachers were not allowed to teach evolution in schools.
In 1914, Methodist Episcopal Church, South v. Board of Vanderbilt University determined that the university was not controlled by the Methodist denomination, but rather its trustees. This school was started by the southern Methodist church. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court's ruling that the denomination in fact controlled the university. Had the original ruling stood its ground, it likely would have remained a small institution and failed to become the large medical center we know today.
Baker v. Carr went down in history as the beginning of the movement known as "'one man, one vote." This case originated because Charles Baker, resident of Memphis, sued Carr (Tennessee Secretary of State) in an attempt to influence a rewriting of district lines. This was due to a major shift in population in the state from rural to urban areas. Though the Tennessee Supreme Court determined it couldn't tell the Legislature to rewrite the lines, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against that decision. This case resulted in nearly every federal district lines in the U.S. to be redrawn by the state legislatures.