Lesson Objectives:- Types of cases reviewed
- How a case gets reviewed
- Court procedures
- Types of decisions and opinions
Every year, the Supreme Court starts hearings in October and adjourns around July. They review less than 1 case for every 4,000 that are decided in U.S. Courts, but many cases they review involve major decisions that profoundly affect all of us.
For example, they often hear cases where our basic rights are challenged like the freedom of speech and the right to bear arms, religious freedom and health-care reform.
Which cases are reviewed by the Supreme Court is totally up to them. They choose which cases to hear and they refuse cases as well. They never give a reason for accepting or refusing a case, so it can be hard to predict their response.
There are a few factors that can influence the Supreme Court’s decision to accept a case.
For example, if several lower courts have decided on similar cases differently, it may be necessary for the Supreme Court to make a final decision on that issue.
Or, when a decision in a lower court conflicts with an existing Supreme Court ruling, they may look at the case to determine if the issue is significant enough to merit their review.
A special scenario is when the Solicitor General requests that the Supreme Court take a case.
The Solicitor General is appointed by the president to decide which cases to request for review by the Supreme Court and represents the national government in cases concerning it.
Petitions are reviewed and if granted, the Supreme Court issues a Writ of Certiorari (pronounced sur-shee-uh-rah-ree). That is an order issued by a higher court to a lower court to send up the record of a case for review.
A Writ of Certiorari is issued if at least four justices agree to review the case. That is known as the Rule of Four, a Supreme Court procedure by which four justices must vote to grant a petition for review if a case is to come before the full court.
If the Supreme Court does not wish to review a case, it is not implying that it agrees with a lower court’s decision, but the lower court’s decision does remain in effect.
When certiorari has been granted in a case, the justices conduct legal research. They each have four law clerks who gather all the facts and explore all the legal issues of the case. That includes the abstracts, briefs, and all the records from the lower court as well as precedence and principles put in place throughout Case Law.
Even though no new evidence gets presented to the judges because it is an appellate proceeding, attorneys can present oral arguments. Each attorney presents reasons to the court as to why the court should rule in his or her client’s favor. Different from a standard trial, the justices can question the attorneys at any point during the oral arguments.
Once the arguments are offered, the justices meet in chambers for a conference about the case. That is where they discuss and vote on their decision in private.
When the court has made its decision, the justices issue their opinion in writing. An Opinion is a statement of the decision reached in a case. It sets forth the applicable law and details the reasoning on which the ruling was based.
Sometimes, they Affirm a lower court’s decision. That is to declare that a court ruling is valid and must stand.
In other cases, they Reverse a lower court’s decision. When they do that, it is to annul or make void a court ruling on account of some error or irregularity.
A third possibility is that they Remand a case. That means to send the case back to the court that originally heard it for a new trial or other proceeding.
Not all decisions are the same. It depends on the way the voting goes. When all the justices agree, that is called a Unanimous Opinion.
Of course, they do not always all agree. Some decisions are based on a Majority Opinion, which is a court opinion reflecting the views of the majority of the judges.
In some cases, a judge may submit a Concurring Opinion, which is a separate opinion prepared by a judge who supports the decision of the majority of the court but wants to clarify certain points or express disagreement with some aspect of how the decision was reached.
A Plurality Opinion is a rare case where a majority of the judges do not agree on an opinion. In that case, a plurality opinion is written by a minority of the court and it decides the case because one or more other judges submit a concurring opinion that agrees with the verdict, if not the reasoning behind the decision.
One last type of opinion is the Dissenting Opinion. That is a separate opinion in which a judge dissents from (or disagrees with) the conclusion reached by the majority of the court and expounds his or her own views about the case.
Once the opinion is written, it is announced from the bench and published in the United States Reports – the official printed record of the Court’s decisions.