Overview of the US Supreme Court

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  • 0:06 U.S. Supreme Court Function
  • 1:32 Justices
  • 2:22 Filing a Writ Of Certiorari
  • 4:01 In Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

The U.S. Supreme Court justices reside over cases involving original jurisdiction under certain circumstances and appellate jurisdiction when a decision from a lower court involving constitutional law is at issue. Appellate cases require a writ of certiorari requesting permission to address this court.

U.S. Supreme Court Function

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and resides over cases of national importance.

Created in 1789 by vote of Senate Bill 1 (1789) in an effort to have a court system of a higher level than the state court, it hears cases that involve:

  • Interstate disputes
  • Diversity disputes
  • Disputes involving foreign nationals
  • Disputes that arise under treaties
  • Cases where the United States is a party
  • Cases appealed from lower courts where Constitutional law is at issue

There are two types of jurisdiction, or authority to hear a case, that the U.S. Supreme Court has a right to exercise:

  • Original jurisdiction
  • Appellate jurisdiction

When the U.S. Supreme Court exercises original jurisdiction it is exercising its right to hear a case based on subject matter. This means the very subject of the case is enough to have the case heard.

The vast majority of cases heard by this court fall under appellate jurisdiction and involves cases moved from a lower court to be reviewed for disputes in the application of Constitutional law. Not all cases are granted a review in U.S. Supreme Court. There is a process that one must precisely follow, and the request for re-evaluation must be granted by a panel of justices.


The U.S. Supreme Court is resided over by nine justices, including one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. The justices are nominated by the President of the United States and appointed by the Senate. They serve a lifetime term with the exception of retirement, resignation or impeachment.

When a case review is requested by a party, the justices return a grant or denial to re-evaluate appellate cases. For original jurisdiction cases, it is a matter of subject matter and the case is heard as a matter of law.

In order for a case to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, one must follow the strict guidelines for appeal including submitting a writ of certiorari requesting permission to have a case heard. Once the writ is granted, the case must follow a protocol.

Filing a Writ of Certiorari

In order to have a case reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the losing party must file a writ of certiorari, or a request for permission to review the case. It is important to understand that having a case heard in the U.S. Supreme Court is not a right; it is granted only to those parties who have significant evidence that their lower court judgment was in violation of Constitutional law.

And even at that, the decision is final only when four of the nine justices vote to grant the writ. Of the thousands of writs the court receives, only about 150 cases are ever heard in this court. In a death penalty review, a vote of five out of nine justices must be returned.

Filing the writ is pretty simple. Within 90 days of the lower court's final judgment, the writ must be filed with the court. Included with the writ are:

  • List of the names involved in the case
  • Facts of the case
  • Legal questions prepared for the justices regarding specific issues of Constitutional law
  • Arguments in favor of the writ to be considered by the justices
  • A check for $300.00 along with 10-12 copies of all documents to be reviewed by the justices is also required

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