A writ of certiorari is an order from a higher court compelling a lower court to turn over documents of a case for review. The Supreme Court, on application by a petitioner, grants a writ of certiorari.
In the U.S. Supreme Court, a case is initiated by filing a petition to grant writ of certiorari. If the court denies a certiorari petition, the decision of the lower court stands. The decision to grant or deny a writ petition depends upon the discretion of the Supreme Court. A writ of certiorari can be granted only on reasonable grounds.
Pursuant to the federal jurisdictional statute, the Supreme Court can review civil or criminal cases from the Courts of Appeals if a writ of certiorari is allowed.[i] Any party to a case can move to the Supreme Court for review of a lower court’s decision. There is no condition to meet the amount in controversy requirement for filing a writ petition in the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress provides an unlimited discretionary power to the Supreme Court to review every case pending in the Courts of Appeals. However, the court grants the writ only when it is the only source for plain, speedy, and adequate remedy.[ii]
The writ of certiorari is not one of right, but its issuance lies in the sound discretion of the Supreme Court. Generally, the Supreme Court is hesitant to grant the writ of certiorari in cases that are not finally adjudged. However, the Supreme Court is not obstructed from reviewing cases pending in lower courts, or interlocutory orders from lower courts.[iii] The Supreme Court can review interlocutory orders only if it is necessary to prevent extraordinary inconvenience and embarrassment in the conduct of the cause.[iv]
If the U.S. Supreme Court grants a writ of certiorari, it does not necessarily mean that the Supreme Court disagrees with the decision of the lower court. It merely means that the circumstances described in the petition are sufficient to warrant review by the Court. Similarly, the Supreme Court’s denial of a petition for a writ of certiorari is not necessarily because the Supreme Court approves the decision of the lower court. Such denials import no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case.
[i] State ex rel. Schumacher v. First Judicial Dist. Court, 77 Nev. 408 (Nev. 1961)
[ii] State ex rel. Murphy v. Superior Court, 30 Ariz. 620 (Ariz. 1926)
[iii] State ex rel. Hass v. Wis. Court of Appeals, 2001 WI 128 (Wis. 2001)
[iv] American Constr. Co. v. Jacksonville, T. & K. W. R. Co., 148 U.S. 372 (U.S. 1893)