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Supreme Court Insight: Glossary

Definitions from Steven Gifis, Law Dictionary, 7th Edition (Hauppauge, NY: 2016). 

Amicus curiae -  Latin for friend of the court; one who gives information to the court on some matter of law which is in doubt.  The function of an amicus curiae is to call the court's attention to some matter which might otherwise escape its attention.  An amicus curiae brief (or amicus brief) is submitted to the court by one not a party to the lawsuit to aid the court in gaining the information it needs to make a proper decision or to urge a particular result on behalf of the public or a private interest of third parties who will be affected by the resolution of the dispute. 

Brief - a written argument concentrating upon legal points and authorities, which is used by the lawyer to convey to the court the essential facts of his or her client's case, a statement of the questions of law involved, the law that should or would apply, and the application that he or she desires of the court;  it is submitted in connection with an application, motion, trial, or appeal. 

Certiorari - see Writ of certiorari, below. 

Certiorari Denied - where the Supreme Court denied a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, i.e. the case is not heard by the Court. 

Consolidated/combined case: When cases have briefs in common, Supreme Court Insight uses two different designations:  consolidated and combined.

The term Consolidated is used if the docket specifically says something like “Petition granted. Case is consolidated with 04-14…” etc. But the case is only labelled if the docket actually uses that term.

If two (or more) cases share briefs in common but the word "consolidated" is not used in the docket, the cases are labelled as  Combined.   Note:  in this case the term vided could be used; Supreme Court Insight uses the the term "combined" for clarity.

Disposition of cases: 

  • Affirmed - the judgment of the lower court is correct and should stand.
  • Affirmed in part - a portion of the judgment of the lower court was affirmed.
  • Dismissed - an order that disposes of the matter without a trial of the issues involved on their merits.
  • Dismissed as improvidently granted - the Writ of Certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted, meaning the Court should not have accepted the case. 
  • Dismissed for want of jurisdiction - the Court lacks jurisdiction to decide the question on which certiorari was granted
  • Remanded - send back the matter to the court from which it was appealed.  When a judgment is reversed, the Court usually remands the matter for a new trial to be carried out consistent with the principles announced in its opinion.
  • Remanded in Part - a portion of the judgment of the lower court was remanded.
  • Reversed - changes to the contrary to opinion of the lower court/body.
  • Reversed in Part - part of the judgment of the lower court was reversed.
  • Vacated - sets aside the judgment of the lower court.
  • Vacated in Part - part of the judgment of the lower court was set aside, or vacated.

In forma pauperis (IFP) - Latin:  in the manner of a pauper.  With regard to pleadings, opportunity to sue "In forma pauperis" grants a party the right to proceed without assuming the burden of costs or formal niceties of pleading, such as page size and numbers of copies required.  A criminal defendant granted permission to proceed in forma pauperis may be entitled to the assistance of court-appointed counsel.  Cases with numbers 5000 or higher are filed in forma pauperis (for example, 03-9046)

Landmark Case - Case of historical and legal significance which may establish a new legal principle or concept or otherwise substantially change the interpretation of existing law.

Original Jurisdiction - the authority to hear a case the first time (as opposed to appellate jurisdiction, which is the authority to review a decision from a lower court).  Under Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a state is a party.  

Per curiam - Latin: by the court. A per curiam opinion is an opinion "by the court" which expresses its decision in the case but whose author is not identified. 

Petition for writ of certiorari (PWC): Brief submitted by the petitioner putting forward the legal position of the case and asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Petitioner - The petitioner is the party who petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case.  The Adverse party is called the Respondent.

Respondent: The respondent is the party who responds to the claim filed by the petitioner

Writ of certiorari: Order of a higher court agreeing to review a lower court decision