How Can I Get My Case to the Supreme Court?

Marbury v. Madison, Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education; all are cases that have shaped history and all were heard by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest federal court in this country. A ruling by this court will hold over federal jurisdiction only unless that same court overturns it.  But how does a case get to the Supreme Court?

Parties must first petition the court for a writ of certiorari, or asking the court to hear their case.  The first requirement is that the Court must have jurisdiction to hear the case. The Supreme Court has two types of jurisdiction: original jurisdiction or appellate jurisdiction. Original jurisdiction occurs when a case is brought to the Supreme Court first. These are cases that involve disputes between the states or disputes arising among ambassadors and other high-ranking ministers.

Next, a case can be appealed to the Supreme from the Appellate Federal Court or a State Court.  In order for a state court judgment to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, it must turn on federal grounds.

However, simply because these elements are meant, does not guarantee that the Supreme Court will hear the case. When a case is filed with the Supreme Court it will first enter a pool of Supreme Court clerks, who will review all of the documents, create a summary, and include a recommendation on whether or not the Court shall take the case. The justices will then review this file and weigh many factors.

Factors the Court Considers When Choosing Cases:

  • Conflict of Law: The United States judicial system consists of 50 state supreme courts and 13 federal circuits. Often times, these courts will reach different decisions concerning federal or constitutional law. In these instances, the Supreme Court may take the case in order to decide the law so that all areas of the country can abide by that same law.
  • Important Social Issue: Sometimes a case is so unusual or important to the times that the Supreme Court will decide to hear it. Examples of this occurring are U.S. v. Nixon, Bush v. Gore, and Roe v. Wade.
  • An Interest Important to the Justice: Often times, a case will come about that speaks to the interest of a justice, such as women’s rights or environmental control. Here, the Justice will vote to hear the case in order to decide an issue close to them.
  • When Lower Courts Disagree: Note that this is different from conflict of law cases.  This occurs when lower courts go against a previous Supreme Court decision. The Court may want to hear the case to correct the lower court or to simply overrule the case.

Typically the court will accept 100-150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review each year. Therefore, one can understand that it is very difficult to get your case to the Supreme Court. The experienced attorneys at Shein & Brandenburg will advocate for your case at all levels. Should your case rise to the level of the Supreme Court, our attorneys will work carefully and diligently to provide your case with the respect that it deserves.