Georgia Appeals Law Guide / Appellate Law Treatise

Inherent Powers

Beyond the powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution and in statutes, Georgia courts have certain other powers inherent in the judiciary’s role as an “independent and co-equal branch of government.” In re Dekalb County Courthouse Fire Sprinkler System, 265 Ga. 96, 97 (454 SE2d 126) (1995); see also McCorkle v. Judges of Superior Court of Chatham County, 260 Ga. 315, 316 (392 SE2d 707) (1990) (same language). An “inherent power is a principle which arises from the doctrine of separation and equality of the branches of government,” and “[a]s such it may not be limited by the legislative branch.” Grimsley v. Twiggs County, 249 Ga. 632, 634 (292 SE2d 675) (1982).

Protecting the judiciary

In Garcia v. Miller, 261 Ga. 531 (408 SE2d 97) (1991), the Georgia Supreme Court considered the authority of state court judges whose constitutional terms had ended, but who remained in office pursuant to a federal court decision under the Voting Rights Act. The Court found that it had “the inherent power essential to protect the judiciary as an independent branch of state government and to maintain a court system capable of providing for the administration of justice in an orderly and efficient manner.” Id. at 532. Exercising this power, and its power to make rules under the Georgia Constitution, the Court held that the holdover judges retained their powers until their successors could be qualified. Id.

Regulating conduct of attorneys

In Wallace v. Wallace, 225 Ga. 102 (166 SE2d 718) (1969), the Georgia Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of its 1963 order recognizing the State Bar of Georgia as a unified bar (that is, an organization of which all lawyers licensed to practice law in Georgia are required to be members). The Court found that it had the power to establish the unified bar, pursuant to its “inherent power to regulate the conduct of attorneys as officers of the court, and to control and supervise the practice of law generally, whether in or out of court.” Id. at 109.

Correction of court’s own errors

The Georgia Supreme Court has “inherent discretionary power to review and correct its own errors.” Brown v. Francis, 254 Ga. 83, 86 (326 SE2d 735) (1985). A trial court also has inherent authority to correct its own errors while a case remains pending before it. See Hipp v. State, 293 Ga. 415, 418 (746 SE2d 95) (2013).

Orderly and efficient administration of justice

The Georgia Supreme Court “has the inherent power ‘to maintain a court system capable of providing for the administration of justice in an orderly and efficient manner.’” AT&T Corp. v. Sigala, 274 Ga. 137, 139 (549 SE2d 373) (2001) (quoting Garcia v. Miller, 261 Ga. 531, 532 (408 SE2d 97) (1991)). In Sigala, the Court relied on this inherent power to “adopt the doctrine of forum non conveniens for use in lawsuits brought in our state courts by nonresident aliens who suffer injuries outside this country.” Id.