As lawyers, we are often asked questions off the cuff. One of the most asked questions we hear is how the Supreme Court decides what cases they are going to make a ruling.
The Supreme Court has both original (first) and appellate (review) jurisdiction (the right to hear a case) for a number for cases including disputes between states and appeals from cases heard in the lower federal circuit courts.
Former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist outlined the process of deciding whether to take a case from one of the lower federal courts of appeal in his book, The Supreme Court: How It Was, How It Is (New York: Morrow, 1987). Chief Justice Rehnquist writes that these cases are chosen based on three major factors: 1) whether it is in conflict with the decisions of other circuits; 2) the general importance of the case; and 3) whether the lower court’s decision may be wrong in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous opinions.
Based on these factors, four justices must vote to hear a case for it to come before the Supreme Court.
For more information, please visit the United State Supreme Court’s website: http://www.supremecourt.gov.