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A Writ of Certiorari (Latin for "having been certified") is legally a writ of error submitted by a party to a case from a lower court to a higher court, requesting review of the lower court's adverse findings of law.

The common usage of the term in American law implies review by the Supreme Court. A party is said to seek "cert" almost exclusively when seeking judicial review by the Supreme Court.

The Court strategically considers and limits its docket by denying certiorari where appropriate. Cert is often denied where:

  • The issue, if decided properly, would inflame national opinion on a controversial topic (under this rationale, the Court delayed handing down an opinion on miscegenation until Loving v. Virginia, despite requests for certiorari of related cases over the preceding 20 years);
  • The case is simply not important enough, factually (dollar value, rights infringed, etc.) to merit review;
  • The law implicated is clearly settled, and any Supreme Court opinion would be a cursory affirmation of the lower court;
  • The lower court was either correct, or correct enough, or;
  • The Court is simply too busy, or for some other mystical reason, uninterested.

Circuit splits – or disagreements among several federal judicial circuits – often result in a grant of certiorari, since the Supreme Court has a high level of interest in encouraging judicial uniformity (to assure the rule of law, "like cases should be treated alike"). However, the existence of a circuit split is no guarantee of a writ being granted.

The Supreme Court has, even prior to the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts — been reviewing a decreasing number of cases.[1]


  1. "Dwindling Docket Mystifies Supreme Court". New York Times. December 7, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/07/washington/07scotus.html.