How does the Supreme Court decide to hear a case?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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The Supreme Court decides to hear a case based on at least four of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court agreeing to grant the Petition for Certiorari. If four Justices agree to grant the petition, the Supreme Court will consider the case. A Petition for Certiorari is granted in very, few selected cases—fewer than 100 a year, by the Supreme Court of the United States.
A petition for Writ Certiorari is a request that the court hear your case. The Supreme Court receives over 5000 writs of Certiorari every year. Each writ and the case it comes from is reviewed the Supreme Court clerks and then shortened into a cert. memo. The cert. memo is what the Supreme Court justices use to actually decide the case. Upon reviewing the memo, the particular justice that the case was assigned to will either deny the appeal himself and affirm the appeals court judgment or will bring the cert. memo before the other justices and debate whether the case should be heard. In order for the case to be heard, four justices must agree to hear the case. This is known as the Rule of Four. If four justices vote to hear the case, then it is placed onto the court’s docket and the parties and their attorney’s are notified that the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case.
The court will typically grant the petitions of cases that are exceptionally unique and that present an issue of law that would be considered far-reaching throughout the United States. The Supreme Court also prefers cases that are clear examples for the lower court so that exact guidance can be given.