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The Supreme Court. How a case makes it to & through the Supreme Court October – May (sometimes June). Each state comprises at least one U.S. judicial district (94). The nation is divided into 12 judicial circuits. The graphs show increasing federal caseloads.

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the supreme court

The Supreme Court

How a case makes it to & through the Supreme Court

October – May (sometimes June)


Each state comprises at least one U.S. judicial district (94). The nation is divided into 12 judicial circuits. The graphs show increasing federal caseloads.


There are many different kinds of law:

1. civil

2. criminal

3. personal injury (tort law – civil not criminal ; ex. Auto accident)

4. contract law (marriage/divorce/adoption)

5. family law

6. environmental law

7. Education law


Most laws in this country are made in states

  • There are approximately 12 million cases per year – all but about 300,000 are heard in state courts
  • Supreme Court hears primarily cases dealing with federal law. The Constitution is the single most important federal law.
  • Juries decide facts in a case – but appeals are made on the opinion of the judge – judge must have made a mistake about the law.

The Supreme Court will only accept cases if uniformity is important for the country or if lower courts are conflicted on the interpretation of the constitutionality of law.

300,000 federal cases per year

100,00 federal appeals per year

8,000 appeal to the Supreme Court

90 – 100 accepted

What happens if the Supreme Court refuses to hear a case?

What happens if the justices decision is tied?

the current court 2010
The Current Court (2010)

Front row: Associate Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Chief JusticeJohn G. Roberts, Antonin G. Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.Back row: Associate Justices Samuel A. Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.


Rule of Four- at least 4 of the 9 justices must agree that a case should be put on the Court’s docket

Writ of certiorari (to be made more certain) – an order by the Court directing the lower court to send up the record in the case.

Certificate (fewer cases) – this process is used when a lowe court is not clear about the prodedure or the rule of law that should apply in a case. The lower court asks the S.C. to certify the answer to a specific question in the matter.

Briefs - (amicus curiae briefs)

Oral arguments – (Oct to May) – 2 week cycles –(M,T,W & sometimes Thurs) – 30 min max



Opinions – majority – stand as precedents

concurrent – making emphasizing a point not made in the dissenting

(become precedents – examples to be followed in similar cases)


Court Costs

  • In forma pauperis
  • Fee shifting
  • Sovereign immunity
  • Class action suit
  • Per curiam opinion
  • Stare decisis
  • Solicitor general
  • Standing


On page 451 you have a picture of Clarence Earl Gideon. Here is what Robert F. Kennedy remarked about the Gideon case, "If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in prison with a pencil and paper to write a letter to the Supreme Court; and if the Supreme Court had not taken the trouble to look at the merits in that one crude petition among all the bundles of mail it must receive every day, the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter; the court did look into his case; he was re-tried with the help of competent defense counsel; found not guilty and released from prison after two years of punishment for a crime he did not commit. And the whole course of legal history has been changed."[