59 terms

Supreme Court Terms

amicus curiae
"a friend of the court" a person or group who is not a party to the lawsuit who has information or experience that is thought will be helpful in deciding the case. They sometimes are parties who will be affected by the outcome of the case. They may be asked by one side or the other to participate or, with permission of the Court, they may join the case on their own initiative.
writ of certorari
When a party wants its case reviewed, it asks the Supreme Court to direct the lower court to supply the Supreme Court with the records of the case. Most cases come to the Supreme Court via these, but few such cases are actually heard.
writ of mandamus
"we command" a writ that orders a lower court or an official to perform some act. The Supreme Court considers it an extraordinary writ (one that should only be used when all else fails) and rarely issues one.
writ of error
an order issued by an appeals court to a lower court. It's similar to a writ of certiorari, but here the appeals court asks the lower court to send it the record of a particular case so that the record can be reviewed for an alleged "error." For example, the judge's instruction to the jury prior to its deliberation may have given them a mistaken idea of the law governing the case.
writ of habeas corpus
a writ that is usually used to bring a prisoner before the court to determine the legality of his imprisonment. If the imprisonment is not justified, the court orders that the prisoner be released. It may also be used to bring a person in custody before the court to give testimony or to be prosecuted. It's also known as the Great Writ.
prima facie
"at first view" "on its face" a case is one that doesn't require further support; the evidence in your favor is so strong that the other party must mount a defense (guilty until proven innocent type of thing)
in camera
"in chambers" it refers to meetings that are held in a judge's chambers and hence out of view of the public and jury. Such a meeting may be called to examine evidence to decide whether it will be presented to the jury.
per curiam
"by the court" when a court issues this opinion, it's unanimous, unsigned, and usually brief. Example: Supreme Court decision about Pentagon Papers
en banc
"in the bench" or "full bench" it refers to court sessions with the entire membership of a court participating rather than only a quorum. U.S. Courts of appeals usually sit in panels of three judges, but may expand and sit this in certain cases.
stare decisis
"let the decision stand" the doctrine to uphold precedents. It means that in similar cases, past judicial decisions should be accepted as the authorities (upholds precedent)
a fortiori
"from the stronger" if one thing is true, then the other fact must be true (kind of like a syllogism)
(petitioner) the loser in a lawsuit becomes the petitioner in the higher court; the one who's bringing his case to a higher court for review of the lower court's decision. He wants the lower court's decision overturned
(respondent) the person who won his case in the lower court and is being made to defend it in a higher court where it has been brought on appeal. He wants the lower court's decision to stand.
a written document that a lawyer uses to give the court the facts essential to his case and the legal arguments that support his side. Sometimes it will offer a policy argument; that is, it will try to convince the Court that its position is not only good law but good public policy. The Supreme Court's rules order that these "be concise, logically arranged with proper headings, and free of irrelevant, immaterial or scandalous matter." The Court also lays down rules about the way it must be presented.
courtesy. It isn't a rule of law, it's a rule of convenience by which one court defers to another's jurisdiction. It is for non-required recognition, for example, recognition of a divorce decree issued by a foreign court.
acronym for "dismiss certiorari as improvidently granted" the justices may upon further deliberation decide to withdraw their grant of certiorari. In other words, they've changed their minds and won't hear the case.
ex parte
"only from one side" this kind of action action is one brought on behalf of one party, who need not be notified nor participate in the action, against another. The words may appear in the title of a case.
ex relatione (or ex rel.)
"upon relation on report" it's used in case names to indicate that the suit was brought by the government (state or federal) at the instigation (urging) of a private person who had an interest in the case's outcome.
in forma pauperis
"in the manner of a pauper" an appeal may be brought by a person unable to pay the court costs. If his petition is granted, he doesn't have to pay costs nor does he have to adhere to certain of the Supreme Court's rules, for example, the number of copies of a brief that need to be printed.
in personam
an action directed against a person
in rem
an action against a thing
in re
"in the matter of" used in the title of a case when there are no actual opponents. It refers instead to the person who is the primary subject of the case. It's often used in cases involving juvenile offenders.
obiter dictum
It's a statement made by a judge that is incidental to the question before him. It's a kind of "by the way" and its usually not binding on any future cases.
pro se
"on one's own behalf" in courts, it refers to persons who present their own cases without benefit of lawyers
abstention. If judge has a personal interest in a case, he removes himself from the proceedings. It is a way of protecting those involved for any preexisting bias the judge may have
when a higher court sends a case back to the lower court for further proceedings
nolo contendere
"no contest" for a criminal sentence, it has the same effect as a plea of guilty, but it may not be considered an admission of guilt for any other purpose
rule of four
it's an unwritten rule that a case will not be heard by the Supreme Court unless at least four justices vote to review it.
a court decision in an earlier case with facts and law similar to those in a dispute currently before a court. It will ordinarily govern the decision of a later case, unless a party can show that the case was wrongly decided or that it differed in some significant way from the current case
solicitor general
appointed by the president, this person or a member of his staff represents the U.S. government in cases before the Supreme Court
an order that stops or suspends any action until some particular event occurs or it is lifted by the court. A justice of the Supreme Court, acting alone, may issue one to stop a lower court's acting on a particular matter
subpoena ad testificandum
a court order that commands a witness to appear and give testimony. If you disobey it, you may be found in contempt of court and duly punished
subpoena duces tectum
a court order that's issued at the request of one party to a case, asking a witness to produce any relevant documents under his control, for example, business or tax records
test case
a lawsuit whose purpose is to see if a law or legal principle will stand up in court. A group may intentionally break the law in order to test that law's constitutionality. Often when there is a group of similar suits pending, the one that is most representative or thought most likely to succeed will become this. The outcome will be pertinent to the other cases when they are tried.
voir dire
(1) the process by which judges and lawyers select a petit jury from among those eligible to serve. It entails questioning people to determine their knowledge of the facts of the case and their willingness to decide the case only on the evidence presented in court. The phrase voir dire means "to speak the truth" (2) an inquiry as to the foundation for certain disputed evidence used to determine the admissibility of that evidence.
"one by one" "individually" separate opinions were at one time written by each Supreme Court justice, but this practice was abandoned in the early 1800s.
majority opinion
a written explanation of the decision handed down by a majority of the court (on the Supreme Court if all the justices are participating, five justices constitute a majority) chief justice writes it if he is in the majortiy
dissenting opinion
an opinion by a justice who disagrees with the majority's decision. He may not produce his own written opinion by may simply declare himself as this. This can't change the Supreme Court's decision (the Court has already decided the case), but it can influence public opinion. This person may hope that a future Court, rereading his legal reasoning, will overrule the majority opinion
concurring opinion
an opinion that's in agreement with the results reached by the majority but disagrees with the reasoning that led the majority to its decision. A justice may write a one, giving his own reasons for reaching the decision. Other justices may add their names to it.
original jurisdiction
no other court need first consider the matter; the case starts with you (the first case); results in a decision
appellate jurisdiction
appellate courts have the authority to review a lower court decision
concurrent jurisdiction
when two courts have the simultaneous ability to hear the same case
exclusive jurisdiction
only one court has jurisdiction in the case, not two different courts (either federal or state)
statutory law
law that comes from authoritative and specific lawmaking sources, primarily legislatures but also including treaties and executive orders
common law
Judge-made law that originated in England in the 12th century, when royal judges traveled around the country settling disputes in each locality according to prevailing custom. It continues to develop according to the rule of stare decisis, which means "let the decision stand." This is the rule of precedent, which implies that a rule established by a court is to be followed in all similar cases.
equity law
Law used whenever common law remedies are inadequate. For example, if an injury done to property may do irreparable harm for which money damages cannot provide compensation, under equity a person may ask the judge to issue an injunction ordering the offending person not to take the threatened action. If the wrongdoer persists, he or she may be punished for contempt of court.
constitutional law
statements interpreting the U.S. Constitution that have been given Supreme Court approval.
admiralty and maritime law
Law applicable to cases concerning shipping and waterway commerce on the high seas and on the navigable waters of the United States
administrative law
Law relating to the authority and procedures of administrative agencies as well as to the rules and regulations issued by those agencies
criminal law
Law that defines crimes against the public order and provides for punishment. Government is responsible for enforcing it, the great body of which is enacted by states and enforced by state officials in state courts. The criminal caseload of federal judges is growing.
civil law
Law that governs the relations between individuals and defines their legal rights. However, the government can also be a party to a civil action. Under the Sherman Antitrust Act, for example, the federal government may initiate civil as well as criminal action to prevent violations of the law.
deals with injury/wrongful act/liabilities; seeking some payment for an injury caused; jury determines what that payment is; additional costs added for pain and suffering
tort reform
to try to put limits on the amounts of money received for pain and suffering
amicus curiae
"a friend of the court"
prima facie
"at first view"
stare decisis
"let the decision stand"
a fortiori
"from the stronger"
pro se
"on one's own behalf"
nolo contendere
"no contest"