Writ of Mandamus: Definition & Example

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  • 0:01 What Is a Writ of Mandamus?
  • 1:52 The Law Upheld
  • 2:52 Writ of Mandamus Examples
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy Faircloth

Wendy has taught all subjects of high school social studies and English and has a master's degree in Secondary Education.

What is a writ of mandamus? This complicated-sounding legal term is actually pretty simple. You'll get an explanation and some examples in this lesson.

What is a Writ of Mandamus?

'But Your Honor…the law requires that you enforce the custody ruling in favor of my client! Even though another state issued the custody order, it is still legally binding here!'

'Sit down, Ms. Fernandez. I have ruled.'

Shaking her head with frustration, Ms. Fernandez heeds the judge's order to sit down. Looking over at her worried client, she whispers, 'Try not to worry. This isn't over. The minute we leave, I am going back to the office to prepare a petition for a writ of mandamus. We'll make sure this judge complies with the law.'

So what is a writ of mandamus? If you've ever read much about the legal system, you may have noticed many terms come from Latin. Mandamus means 'we command.' So, you may get the impression that some kind of order, or mandate, is imposed in a writ of mandamus. You're correct! A writ of mandamus is a somewhat uncommon, but important, legal maneuver.

A writ of mandamus can be issued by a judge at a petitioner's request when the authority of a higher court is needed to compel an action by an individual person, a government agency, or a lower court to do something they are legally required to do.

Writs of mandamus are not routine. Normally, court rulings go through the ordinary appeals process, where a higher court can make a ruling on the decision of a lower court. Before a petition for a writ of mandamus in a court case can be considered, a reason why the traditional appeals process wouldn't work or wouldn't be relevant needs to be demonstrated. No other legal relief, or solution to the problem, can be available in order for a writ of mandamus to be considered.

A writ of mandamus is basically a last resort. All other options to resolve the situation legally must have been attempted or not applicable before a judge considers granting a writ of mandamus. Also, the risk of a serious injustice occurring if action is not taken must be present. Let's get back to Ms. Fernandez and her client.

The Law Upheld

Hurrying back to her office, Ms. Fernandez quickly prepares a petition for a writ of mandamus, where she clearly states the urgency of her client's situation. If the judge does not enforce the legally binding custody order from another state, the noncustodial parent could take the child far away and deprive the custodial parent of her rights to her child. The noncustodial parent could even take the child out of the country! The situation is dire and needs immediate resolution.

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