What happens to a petition for a writ of certiorari when it reaches the US Supreme Court?

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In 2009, the US Supreme Court received 7,738 requests for case review, called a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari. Because the volume of cases is so high, and there are only nine Justices on the Court, only 1-2% (75-150 cases) of the submitted petitions are granted certiorari.

  1. When the Petition arrives, it goes into the Cert Pool, which is an electronic holding area for cases in need of review. Justices can opt in or out of the Cert Pool, meaning they can choose whether to participate in the initial round of reviews (older Justices sometimes choose to opt out, if the workload is too demanding).

  2. Each participating Justice places their clerks in the pool, and the clerks are randomly assigned cases to review and summarize. The assignment is designed to discourage clerks from selecting cases in which they have a particularly interest, to avoid the temptation of writing summaries in a way that skews the presentation or presents a bias.

  3. The Cert Pool, instituted in 1973 by the Burger Court, has been criticized as not being as ideologically neutral as intended, and for the fate of each Petition depending strongly on which particular clerk reads it.

  4. After the clerks summarize the Petitions, they circulate copies of their summaries to each of the nine Justices for review.

  5. The Justices meet privately in conference to discuss and vote on whether to accept briefs (more detailed information, lower court opinions, etc.). If at least four of the nine Justices vote to grant the petition, the case proceeds to the briefing stage; otherwise, certiorari is denied and the case ends.

  6. The results of the conference are published as orders of the Court, and those granted certiorari are scheduled for oral argument and placed on the docket.

  7. The justices issue a writ of certiorari, or order for the case files, to the lower court, and the Clerk of Court notifies the attorneys involved in the case of important dates and other requirements.

    (End role of petition here)

  8. The attorneys for submit briefs and/or responses to opposing briefs.

  9. People and organizations with an interest in the case, but who are not parties to the case, may submit amicus (friend of the court) briefs providing opinions or additional information.

  10. The justices review all submitted legal material relevant to the case.

  11. The justices may hear oral arguments or conduct a paper review.

  12. The case is discussed in conference and the justices take a preliminary vote, and later, a final vote.

  13. One justice is assigned to write the opinion of the Court; other justices may choose to write concurring or dissenting opinions.

  14. The justices read and make suggestions about the written opinions.

  15. The decision is announced and published.


For more information, see Related Questions, below.
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