It’s a question we’re asked often: How do court cases reach the Supreme Court of the United States? The short answer is that even there are two paths for Supreme Court cases: the first is via “original jurisdiction” for cases that originate at the Supreme Court level; and the second, more common path, is for cases that originated in the lower court system and advance through appellate (appeals) courts.
Frankly, advancing a case to the highest court in the land through the appeals system can be a long shot. Why? Because the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court procedures dictate which cases come before the Supreme Court of the U.S. (commonly called SCOTUS). Due to the extraordinary volume of court cases in the federal appeals system at any given time, the Supreme Court must, understandably, be selective. In fact, each year the Supreme Court typically hears two percent or less of the cases petitioned. Ultimately, many cases the Supreme Court does consider tend to involve questions of federal and Constitutional law, and whose interpretations have been in dispute among lower appellate courts.
Article III, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution decrees that the Supreme Court has “original jurisdiction” in all cases “affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party.” In other words, such Supreme Court cases originate with SCOTUS and do not have to begin in lower courts or weave through the appellate system.
In all other cases, however, the Supreme Court maintains “appellate jurisdiction” to hear and rule on (at its discretion) cases that have progressed through lower appeals courts.
Appeals from Court of Appeals
According to USCourts.gov, a site maintained by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on behalf of the Federal Judiciary, a ruling at the Federal Court of Appeals level is usually final. However, the Court of Appeals may send “the case back to the trial court for additional proceedings, or the parties ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.” The primary way for the parties to “petition the court for review is to ask it to grant a writ of certiorari. This is a request that the Supreme Court order a lower court to send up the record of the case for review.” As mentioned earlier, the Court takes on a very small percentage of these cases. “It usually only does so if the case could have national significance, might harmonize conflicting decisions in the federal Circuit courts, and/or could have precedential value.”
Appeals from State Supreme Courts
Another means by which cases can advance and become U.S. Supreme Court cases is by way of the highest court in a U.S. state – i.e., a state Supreme Court. This is true if the state-level high court rules in such a way that a Constitutional issue has been decided.
How do court cases reach the Supreme Court? The U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court procedures provide clear direction and have stood the test of time. Here are some important parameters regarding which cases become Supreme Court cases:
- Even though few cases advance to SCOTUS each year, there is a process in place that offers U.S. citizens several levels of judicial appeals as they seek justice
- The Supreme Court may have “original jurisdiction” in certain cases, including those affecting Ambassadors and those in which a State is an affected party
- Original jurisdiction cases originate with SCOTUS and do not have to begin in lower courts or weave through the appellate system
- In all other cases, the Supreme Court maintains “appellate jurisdiction” for cases that have progressed through lower appeals courts
- Petitioning to the U.S Supreme Court is done via a writ of certiorari, which is a request that the Supreme Court order a lower court to send up the case for review
- A case can also advance to the Supreme Court if a state-level high court has ruled in a way that a Constitutional issue has been decided
At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., our appellate attorneys draw on decades of collective experience handling legal appeals in civil, criminal, and family law cases. To learn more about how to appeal your verdict and improve your chances of navigating the appellate court system, contact us today at (317) 972-8000.
This blog post provides general educational material answering the question, “How do court cases reach the U.S. Supreme Court?” Being an educated legal consumer can help you make the most of the legal experience in meeting your legal objectives. This information is presented by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who practice throughout the State of Indiana. It is not a solicitation, nor is it intended to provide specific legal advice. It is an advertisement. Information contained herein is subject to change.