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How does the Supreme Court Decide Which Cases to Hear?

The Supreme Court hears cases in Washington, D.C.
A writ of certiorari seeks Supreme Court review and decision in a case that has exhausted its appeals and is otherwise at the end of the line.
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  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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The United States Supreme Court is the ultimate court of last resort. While the cases heard by lower level trial courts and appellate courts can be appealed to state supreme courts and federal appellate courts, no other court looks over the shoulder of the U.S. Supreme Court. The opinions issued by the nine justices on this court are final.

Every year the U.S. Supreme Court receives thousands of requests to have the high court hear specific cases. Experts estimate that roughly 5000 requests are made annually. These requests, called petitions for writs of certiorari, are essentially pleas stating, "please hear my case." Each justice on the U.S. Supreme Court has a number of skilled law clerks working for him or her and these clerks review every petition for writ of certiorari and submit a "cert memo" regarding the writs they review to the justice they are assigned. The judges review the memos and hold a conference to determine which of these cases should go on the court's docket.

The "Rule of Four" controls matters when deciding which issues the high court will hear. If four justices agree that a specific petition for writ of certiorari should be granted, then the case will be placed on the Supreme Court's docket and an order stating that certiorari has been granted will be issued to the petitioner.

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Typically, the justices grant certiorari, or "cert" as it is commonly called, to cases which may have far-reaching, interesting issues. The court may wish to hear a case and issue its opinion so that it can offer guidance to the lower level judges throughout the country who have the same issues come through their courtrooms on a daily basis. Cert is also often granted when there is a conflict among a number of lower level trial or appellate courts in interpreting a rule of law or a prior judicial decision. In such cases, the Supreme Court will issue an order specifying the correct interpretation of the law to pave the way and set the legal precedent for the lower courts.

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Discuss this Article

anon327553
Post 20

@anon21534: It's all in the way you write your questions, which can only be one to three sentences long for each question. It either lies in the hands of a liberal clerk or conservative clerk. They decide based on questions written which cases to select for the justices to hear or not. Look up us supreme court IFP Questions page and acceptance of write of ceritori.

bluedolphin
Post 19
@feruze-- I know that the Supreme Court doesn't hear a case that can be decided at lower level courts. They're not going to waste their time on those cases.

They also don't hear cases if the one filing the case is not the one who has been injured legally.

Generally, the Supreme Court doesn't hear cases unless it absolutely has to. Because once the Supremes give a decision about something, that issue is completely taken out of the political arena. So it won't be discussed anymore. Supremes try to avoid this if possible.

donasmrs
Post 18
@anon257866-- It really depends on the case. Sometimes, the Supreme Court thinks about a case for a while before they decide to take it up. This might be to gather more facts or just think about it in general.

In other cases, they will take up a case much more quickly, especially if it's an issue that only the Supreme Court can decide. Many of these cases are about the constitutionality of something. Only the US Supreme Court can interpret and decide if something is constitutional. So only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction for those cases.

bear78
Post 17
But are there any specific types of cases that the Supreme Court doesn't hear?

I have homework on this, please help.

anon302513
Post 14

To answer the questions here: The Supreme Court takes quite a while to issue a response one way or the other. Usually you lose unless you can prove factual or procedural errors by the lower courts.

anon257866
Post 11

How long does it usually take the Supreme Court to decide on which cases they are going to hear? We are working on this in my law class and I haven't been able to find anything on it or anything useful about the Supreme Court.

anon237750
Post 9

When the Supreme Court hears a case about a federal law before it becomes effective, is that law placed "hold" until the Supreme Court rules on the case?

anon134156
Post 8

how is a justice chosen to rule on a particular case?

anon130090
Post 7

This is why we must always demand that a jury of peers hears the matter and not some perverted corrupt, self opinionated judge who is protecting the system and powers that be. A jury of peers will be able to see from the people's prospective

anon115798
Post 6

Let's face it, folks. Many cases are decided on a particular judge's whim and how he sees it. It may be no more right or wrong than how a previous lower court judge saw it. But then, someone has to make the final decision.

One ruling that makes no sense at all is how a defendant can be charged with multiple homicide when killing a pregnant woman. Yet this same woman can have an abortion, killing the baby, and that's legal. Common sense says something is wrong here. Talk about having it both ways.

anon86280
Post 5

who is william rehnquist?

anon85000
Post 4

what is the supreme court? please help.

anon83616
Post 3

Is there a process to go through when the supreme court is going to hear a case?

anon21534
Post 1

This was on a question on one of my worksheets about a supreme court case. How long does the Supreme Court case last and what does the case have to have to be heard?

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