writ of certiorari

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noun Law.
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Origin of writ of certiorari

First recorded in 1815–25
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a writ of certiorari?

A writ of certiorari is a demand from a higher court to a lower court to transfer the records on a particular case from the lower court to the higher court for review.

The term writ of certiorari, often shortened to just certiorari, is most often used in the context of the United States Supreme Court. This is because the Supreme Court typically uses only the certiorari process to decide which cases it will hear. A lower appellate court may also submit a writ of certiorari, but only a small number of state courts use the term writ of certiorari to refer to this legal act. All petitions for writs of certiorari are based solely on a court’s discretion.

Typically, the loser of a legal case files a petition for a writ of certiorari to a higher court of appeals if they believe the court committed a legal error. The higher court reviews the petition and decides if it will approve or deny it. If approved, the court submits a writ of certiorari to the lower court, which is legally obligated to submit a copy of all records of the previous case to the higher court for review. Once this is done, the appellate court will continue with the usual judiciary process and schedule hearings, oral arguments, and so on.

In most legal districts, the loser of a case has a right to appeal the decision to a higher court. However, this is not true for the Supreme Court, which only reviews a case after approving a petition for a writ of certiorari. This approval requires four justices to agree that the case should be reviewed. According to law, the Supreme Court is not required to explain why it approves or denies a petition. Because of the large number of petitions it receives, the Supreme Court usually only submits a writ of certiorari on cases that present an important constitutional question or that are of considerable interest in regards to federal law.

Where does writ of certiorari come from?

The first records of the term writ of certiorari come from around the 1810s. The term writ refers to a legal order issued by a court, government, or other authoritative body. The term certiorari is Latin and means “to be informed” (literally translating to “to be made surer”). A writ of certiorari, then, is an order by a higher court demanding that a lower court “inform” it of a previous case by transferring the case’s records.

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How is writ of certiorari used in real life?

The term writ of certiorari is most commonly used in the context of the Supreme Court. The Court accepts cases through the certiorari process, which often draws a lot of public attention.



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A writ of certiorari is issued from a lower court to a higher court.

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