Glossary of Terms
Amicus briefs. The term amicus curiae is latin for "friend of the court." (The plural is amici curiae, and both are often abbreviated to simply amicus or amici.) Individuals or organizations not parties to a case may file an amicus brief that brings to the attention of the Court relevant matter not already brought to its attention by the parties [which] may be of considerable help to the Court. An amicus brief may be filed at the petition stage (in support of or opposition to the petition for writ of certiorari) or the merits stage (in support of either party or no party).
Brief in opposition. At the petition stage, the respondent may file a brief in opposition to the petition for writ of certiorari within 30 days after the petition for cert is filed and the case is placed on the Courts docket. A brief in opposition should present arguments for denying the petition and should address any perceived misstatement of fact or law in the petition.
Court Calendar. During a session, the Court hears arguments on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Typically, it also announces orders (including orders granting or denying writs of certiorari) on Mondays. When the Court is prepared to announce its decision in a case heard earlier in the Term, it usually does so before hearing arguments on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. The Court usually meets in conference to discuss pending petitions for cert on Thursdays.
Docket numbers. The Supreme Court assigns a unique docket number to every case when the petition for cert, jurisdictional statement, or other initial pleading is filed. That number appears on every brief filed in the case. For cases within the Court's certiorari or appellate jurisdiction, the first two digits of the docket number indicate when the petition or other initial pleading was first filed, while the remaining numbers are assigned sequentially depending on the date of filing. Most cases are assigned sequential numbers beginning with 1, while in forma pauperis cases are assigned numbers beginning with 5000.
In forma pauperis. A litigant who cannot afford to bear certain ordinary court costs may ask the Court for leave to proceed "in forma pauperis." If leave is granted, the litigant may file a petition or other initial pleading in typewritten rather than printed form, and without paying the normal $300 docketing fee.
Invitation. When the Court is considering whether or not to grant review in a case in which the government is not a party, it sometimes issues an order inviting the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States.
Merits stage. The merits stage is the secondary stage of pleading in the Supreme Court, after the Court has already decided to exercise its discretion to hear and decide the case on the merits (by granting the petition for writ of certiorari. At this stage, the parties file full briefs (sometimes known as "merits briefs") addressing the merits of the questions presented for review by the Court.
Moot Court. Prior to oral arguments, attorneys appearing before the Court will practice their oral presentations before a moot court panel set up within a law school or law firm for the purpose of anticipating questions by the Justices and receiving constructive criticism.
Oral argument. Once a case has been fully briefed on the merits, the Court generally schedules it for oral argument. Argument is heard in two-week sessions, approximately once each month from October through April.
Original jurisdiction. Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the Supreme Court "original" jurisdiction over certain classes of cases: "Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be a Party." In modern practice, the original jurisdiction is invoked primarily in cases involving disputes between or among States with respect to their borders or other territorial or natural-resource issues.
Petition for a writ of certiorari (petition for cert or cert petition"). The term certiorari is the latin name for a writ that directs a lower court to deliver the record of proceedings in a case to a higher court for review. Under present law, most cases come to the Supreme Court on a petition for a writ of certiorari (filed by the party that loses in the lower court). The Court has the discretion to grant or deny any petition. If the Court grants a petition, the case is usually set for full briefing by the parties, followed by oral argument and, ultimately, a written decision by the Court affirming, reversing, or modifying the decision of the lower court. If the Court denies a petition, the lower court's judgment remains intact. Generally, a petition for cert is due 90 days from the date from entry of judgment by the lower court.
Petition stage. The petition stage refers to the initial stage of pleading in the Supreme Court, at which the Court decides whether or not to review and decide a case on the merits. Under present law, this stage usually begins when the party that lost in the lower court files a petition for a writ of certiorari.
Supreme Court Term. The Court's annual Term begins each year on the first Monday in October, and ends the next year on the day before the new Term begins. Note: This is not the same annual period that the Court uses for assigning docket numbers, which can lead to some confusion. Thus, a certiorari petition filed in August of 2005 will bear a docket number beginning with "06-", but it is still filed during October Term 2005.
U.S. Solicitor General. Within the Department of Justice, the U.S. Solicitor General is tasked to conduct all litigation on behalf of the United States in the U.S. Supreme Court and to supervise the handling of litigation in the federal appellate courts. If the United States is not a party to a particular case, the Solicitor General may file an amicus brief to bring materials or arguments to the Court's attention. Although the government may file a brief suggesting that the Court grant or deny review in a case, the Solicitor General does not generally file amicus briefs at the petition stage unless invited to do so by the Court. Once the Court has decided to grant review in a case, however, the Solicitor General frequently files amicus briefs on the merits in cases involving issues of public importance.