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Nebraska is the only state in the nation to have a unicameral legislature, or one with just one house. The Nebraska Legislature is also unique in that it is the only nonpartisan legislature in the country. The Speaker of the House and committee chairs are chosen at large, and Senators are elected without designating their party affiliation.
Nebraska has a unified judiciary. The Nebraska Supreme Court has final authority over the state’s lower courts, which include the county courts (the lowest courts), and the Court of Appeals (which hears appeals from the workers’ compensation courts, district courts, and juvenile courts).
Nebraska selects all of its judges according to the Missouri Plan, a method followed by just 12 states. Under the Missouri Plan, commissions consisting primarily of lawyers select judicial candidates; next, three names are presented to the state governor, who must choose one within 60 days. If the governor does not choose within the timeline, the committee makes the decision. Furthermore, during the general election following one year’s service, a newly appointed judge must compete in a retention election, in which he or she can be removed by a majority vote.
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In 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Meyer v. Nebraska, in which it struck down as unconstitutional a Nebraska law forbidding the teaching of foreign languages to students before high school. The Court held that the law violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause; specifically, the Court stated that the word “liberty” refers to no only freedom from physical restraint, but also “the right to contract, engage in the common occupations of life . . . and enjoy privileges long recognized . . . as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” Meyer is significant because it was one of the first cases in which the Court found liberty rights not explicitly stated in the Constitution; Meyer also led to further judicial consideration of substantive due process rights in civil liberties cases.
Until recently, Nebraska was the only location worldwide to use electrocution as its only method of capital punishment. In February, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court declared that this method was cruel and unusual, in violation of the State Constitution. The Nebraska Legislature has declined to repeal the death penalty, however; as such, executions in the state will be stayed until the legislature adopts a constitutional method of capital punishment.
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Last Modified: 05-08-2014 08:44 AM PDT