certiorari power | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

The certiorari power is the authority of an appellate court to order a lower court to send up the record of a case for review.

This term is often used to indicate that an appeal is discretionary and that the appellate court, with this power, may choose to hear the case or not.

The certiorari power is a fundamental principle in the American legal system, granting appellate courts the authority to review lower court decisions. The term “certiorari” comes from Latin and means “to be more fully informed.”

When a party appeals a case to a higher court, the appellate court may use its certiorari power to order the lower court to send up the record of the case for review. This means that the appellate court is requesting the complete record of the case, including transcripts of the trial or hearing, exhibits, and other documents relevant to the case.

The certiorari power is often associated with the United States Supreme Court, which has the power to review cases from lower federal and state courts. However, other appellate courts also have this power, including the United States Courts of Appeals and state appellate courts.

The use of the certiorari power is often discretionary, meaning that the appellate court can choose whether or not to hear a case. In the case of the Supreme Court, the court receives thousands of petitions for certiorari each year but only agrees to hear a small fraction of them.

The Supreme Court typically grants certiorari in cases that present important legal questions or when there is a conflict among the lower courts on an issue. The court may also use its certiorari power to address issues that are of significant public interest, such as cases involving civil rights, free speech, or national security.

The certiorari power is an important tool for ensuring that the legal system operates fairly and consistently. By reviewing lower court decisions, appellate courts can ensure that legal principles are applied correctly and that the rights of all parties are protected.

However, the discretionary nature of the certiorari power can also lead to criticism of the appellate courts. Some argue that the courts should be required to hear more cases, particularly those involving important legal questions or cases where there is a conflict among the lower courts.

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Last Modified: 04/13/2023

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