The Supreme Court hears only a fraction of cases each year

When someone isn't happy with a decision by a court, they will sometimes say they will take their case all the way to the Supreme Court. That is exactly what happens in some cases, but in other cases, the Supreme Court won't hear that particular case. Learning about how the Supreme Court decides which cases to hear might help take some of the mystery out of the process.

In order for the Supreme Court to hear a case, the issue at hand must either fall under federal jurisdiction or pertain to a federal law. If the case pertains to state law or is comprised of parties from only one state, the chance that the Supreme Court will hear the appeal is very slim.

The Supreme Court usually only hears cases that would resolve a conflict of law, cases that are important, cases involving prior Supreme Court decisions that were disregarded by the lower courts and cases that the justices find interesting. Other than those guidelines, it isn't known for certain how the justices decide which cases to hear.

Appealing to the Supreme Court is done by filing a petition of certiorari, which is the document that the Supreme Court uses to determine if the case will be heard. Once this petition is received, a clerk reviews the document. The clerk then prepares a summary and recommendation for the justices. If the justices decide to hear a case, a writ of certiorari is issued.

The Supreme Court hears around 80 cases a year. That is only a small fraction of the estimated 10,000 petitions of certiorari they receive each year. When you consider those numbers, it is easy to understand why a petition of certiorari must be properly presented.

Source: FindLaw, "How Does the U.S. Supreme Court Decide Whether to Hear a Case?," accessed Aug. 11, 2015

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