Primer on Types of Filings in the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has a break from argument and from its scheduled Conferences for the next week or two. The Court is scheduled to release orders again on October 29, and on the same day will hear arguments in Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc.and Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela. In the meantime, if you’ve ever wondered what the meaning of some of the terminology used in coverage of the Court’s orders, here’s a quick primer:

  •      Petition for writ of certiorari: a document that asks the Supreme Court to review the decision of a lower court. Almost all the Court’s cases come to it through “cert petitions,” as they are known, and it has total discretion over whether to grant them. Click here for more details on the content of a petition. And for more information on the historic development of the Court’s control of its own docket, see this piece by ISCOTUS Co-Director Carolyn Shapiro.
  •      When a petitioner motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, they are asking the Court to waive the normal filing fees and to allow them to file their petition for certiorari on regular paper instead of having it printed and put in booklet form.
  •      Amicus curiae is Latin for “friend of the court.” A person or group who has a strong interest in the matter of a given case, but is not a party to the case, may petition the court to ask for permission to submit a brief with the hopes of influencing the outcome of a case. Amicus briefs can be filed by organizations supporting either party to a case. For example, in Nielsen v. Preap argued on October 10, 2018 and discussed here, the Immigration Reform Law institute filed a brief in support of the government, while the National Immigrant Justice Center filed a brief in support of the immigrants who had won in the lower court.
  •      A petition for a writ of habeas corpus (Latin for “that you have the body”) is filed when a person has been convicted and is asking to come before the Court, usually when the person is challenging the legality of the laws that were used to convict them.
  •      A petition for writ of mandamus is filed when a party to a case wants the Court to order a lower court, government, corporation, or public authority to take action that the filling party alleges they are legally obligated to do.

Note: Both habeas and mandamus petitions filed directly in the Supreme Court are rarely granted, although the Court can review lower courts’ rulings on such petitions through its certiorari process.

Written by ISCOTUS Fellow Zoe Arthurson-McColl, Chicago-Kent Class of 2020, edited by ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator, Matthew Webber, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and overseen by ISCOTUS Co-Director Carolyn Shapiro

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