How does Supreme Court select its cases for hearing?
The US Supreme Court chooses its cases selectively. While more than 7000 cases are brought before it for review each year, the court only chooses and decides less than 100 that it considers important. The court is under no obligation to hear each of the cases brought before it. lt chooses them based on some important points which will discussed in this article. The Supreme Court was established by the Article III, Section 1 of the US constitution. According to the Constitution the Court has got both original and appellate jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction implies that Supreme Court is the first and only court to hear a case. However, original jurisdiction is limited only to the cases involving disputes among states, among ambassadors or other high ranking ministers. Appellate jurisdiction on the other hand implies that the court can review the decisions of the lower courts. Most of the cases heard by the Supreme Court are the appeals from the lower courts.
Writs of Certiorari
Parties who are not satisfied by the decision given by the lower courts can petition the Supreme Court for a review of their case. The main method that can be utilized to request the Court is a writ of certiorari. Certiorary is a Latin term meaning “to be more fully informed”. It is a type of writ used by an appellate court to review particular cases at their discretion. The writ orders a lower court to deliver its records related to a particular case so that the appellate court or the higher court can review it. This certiorari is used by US Supreme Court for picking most of the cases it hears. Such cases are entirely upto the Supreme Court to select. It is not under any obligation to accept these cases. However, generally the cases have some important characteristics. Mostly they have far reaching implications. Either they are of national significance, or they are meant to harmonize conflicting decisions in federal circuit or hold important precedential value. Most of such case are unique and set precedents for the lower courts to follow. Generally, the court hears cases that have been decided by a US Court of Appeals or another highest court in the state.
However, the court also has its own rules to accept these cases. First of all, four of the nine justices of the Supreme Court must vote for accepting a case. If the issue is to grant a stay, five of the nine justices must vote to grant it. Law Clerks play a small but important role in helping the justices decided which cases to accept. They do the legal research in this regard. These law clerks are generally the best performers who have recently graduated from law schools. The petitions for certiorari arriving at weekly basis are assigned to their law clerks by the respective judges who then prepare a brief memo based on it. In the Memo they provide their recommendations on whether any particular case must be accepted or not.
The case that has been decided by the Court to be accepted gets placed on the docket. As per the rules petitioners should write a brief that must not exceed 50 pages and should be provided within the stipulated time. This brief must put forth the legal case regarding the issue on which the court granted review. Once the petitioner has filed the brief, respondent is given some time to file his brief that must not exceed 50 pages. After it the petitioner and respondent are also allowed to file shorter briefs while responding to each other position. The US government can file a brief through the solicitor general if it is not involved in the case directly. Apart from it if the court permits, groups that are not involved in the case or are affected by its outcome but still have an interest in the issue may file an amicus curiae. Amicus Curie is a Latin term meaning friend of the court. It is a brief through which they can provide their arguments over how the court must decide the case.