The Supreme CourtThe Supreme Courtof the United Statesof the United Stateshelpful information,helpful information,interesting details,interesting details,& fun facts& fun facts
what cases will the court consider?A party that wants the Supreme Courtto review a lower court’s opinion mustfile a petition for certiorari (“certpetition”) explaining why the SupremeCourt should hear the case. Each year,the Justices and their law clerks reviewanywhere between 8,000 and 10,000cert petitions. Of these thousands,only 80-100 (roughly 1%) are grantedand heard by the Court.
writing briefsIf the Supreme Court agrees to hear a case,the parties file legal briefs outlining their arguments.Formal rules govern every aspect of these briefs.
friends of the Courtfriends of the CourtThe Court also often receives briefs fromamici curiae — friends of the Court.41 briefs were filed in support of the Prop 8 proponents(with light green covers).54 briefs were filed in support of the City and County of SanFrancisco and the couples seeking marriage licenses(with dark green covers). In 2003, the companion cases Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, challenging theUniversity of Michigan’s Affirmative Action admissions policies, generated a total of 102amicus briefs, the most in Supreme Court history.
ORAL ARGUMENTORAL ARGUMENTThe nine Justices are seated by seniority on the Bench. The Chief Justice occupies the centerchair; the senior Associate Justice sits to his right, the second senior to his left, and so on,alternating right and left by seniority. When the Justices assemble to go on the Bencheach day, each Justice shakes hands with each of the other eight as a reminder thatdifferences of opinion on the Court do not preclude overall harmony of purpose.
There are two lights onThere are two lights onthe podium:the podium:whenwhen the white lightthe white lightgoes on, the attorney hasgoes on, the attorney hasfive minutesfive minutesremaining to argue.remaining to argue.When theWhen thered lightred lightgoes on,goes on,time is uptime is upAt oralAt oralargument, eachargument, eachside has onlyside has onlythirty minutesthirty minutesto present itsto present itscase to thecase to theJustices.Justices.
a ticketed event.a ticketed event.Each Justice has acertain number of“tickets” that s/hecan give to friendsand family.The remaining seatsare available toanyone, but seatingis limited and ona first-come,first-seated basis.There are two seating areas in the courtroom:90 seats for members of the Supreme Court barapproximately 200 seats for members of the publicIn some high profilecases, people beginlining up for publictickets well inadvance of the oralargument.In Perry, the firstperson in line arrivedfive days beforethe argument date.
The highest court in thelandDirectly above the Supreme Courtcourtroom is a basketball court, which isappropriately referred to as“the highest court in the land.”To avoid interfering with oral arguments,basketball is prohibited whileCourt is in session.
Deciding the caseDeciding the caseAt the end of a week in which the Court has heard oralarguments, the Justices hold a conference to discuss the cases.At this conference, each justice—in order from most to leastsenior—states the basis on which he or she woulddecide the case, and a vote is taken.Nobody but the Justices is permitted to be present at thismeeting (not even the Justices’ law clerks), so the least seniorJustice is responsible for answering the door and taking notesduring these conferences.If the Chief Justice is in the majority on a case decision, hedecides who will write the opinion for the Court. He may decideto write it himself or he may assign that duty to any otherJustice in the majority.If the Chief Justice is in the minority, the Justice in the majoritywho has the most seniority assumes the assignment duty.
waiting gameThe average time from argument todecision is approximately 81 days81 days,,but this number is skewed byadministrative decisions that may takeonly a few days.No one knows exactly when a decisionwill be handed down by the Court in anargued case, nor is there a set time periodin which the Justices must reach adecision.However, all cases argued during a termof Court are decided before the summerrecess begins, usually by the end of June.