HGov: Supreme Court Cases



Some cases begin at the Supreme Court because they fall under its original jurisdiction. However, the vast majority of cases reach the Court only as appeals from lower court decisions.

The main route to the Supreme Court is when a lower court petitions the Court for a writ of certiorari, an order to send up the records on a case for review. When cases come to the Court, the justices and clerks decide which ones are worthy of serious consideration, and the chief justice puts them on a “discuss list” for all the justices to consider. If four of the nine justices agree to accept the case, the Court will do so.

After the Court accepts a case, the lawyers on each side submit a brief. Parties who have an interest in a case’s outcome may also submit a written brief called amicus curiae. The justices listen to oral arguments from lawyers for each side of each case.

The Court then recesses and considers arguments in these cases. A majority of justices must be in agreement to decide a case.

The Court issues one of four types of written opinions, which are as important as the decision itself. An opinion may be unanimous. A majority opinion expresses the view of the majority of justices. A justice who agrees with the majority’s decision but for a different reason may write a concurring opinion. A dissenting opinion is the opinion of justices on the losing side in a case.

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