SCOTUS question (re: certiorari and reversal)

In this very recent decision by SCOTUS (Parker vs Matthews) (pdf), the justices “grant the petition for certiorari and reverse”.

Does this wording (“We therefore grant the petition for certiorari and reverse”) mean that not only did they decide to hear the case (i.e. grant certiorari) but at (essentially) the same time reviewed, decided, and reversed it? Or, am I just missing the fact that there was a significant interval between the granting of certiorari and their decision?


It looks like like you’re correct that this opinion both grants cert. and rules on the merits. The court found that the case was important enough, and the opinion below was so clearly wrong, that no further briefing or argument was necessary.

More typically, the loser below would submit a brief to petition for cert. to be granted, and the winner below would submit a brief in opposition. The court would issue a separate order granting cert. and setting a schedule for the parties then to submit briefs on the merits of the case. This is because the purpose of the two rounds of briefing is different: the cert. briefing is to persuade the court why the case is or is not of such importance that the court should hear it, while the purpose of the subsequent merits briefing is to show why the decision below was or was not correct. On this site, we see that there was no merits briefing, presumably because the lower court was just that far off the mark. Note too that the opinion is “per curiam,” meaning “from the court” and not from any particular group of Justices. This means that all nine of them were basically on board with this ruling.


I didn’t know that such a sequence (and time line) was possible. Thanks!

In my (admittedly limited) experience, the issuance of substantive decisions on the petition for certiorari, rather than after full briefing on the merits, is somewhat more common under Chief Justice Roberts than previously.

However, one circumstance where decisions have always been commonly granted on the petition is where Supreme Court review is sought where the issue is already before the court on a prior certiorari petition. Often, multiple cases will bring up the same issue to the Court, and the Court will grant certiorari for one or a few of them and hold back decisions on the certiorari petitions of all the other cases (and any other petitions filed after the first certiorari is granted). After the lead case or cases are decided, the Court will issue a number of decisions on the petitions that were held back in the nature of: “Certiorari is granted and the case is remanded for further consideration in light of X v. Y.”

I first started perusing the orders lists back in the late '90’s. This sort of formation wasn’t too uncommon back in those days, although I certainly don’t recall it coming up every week.

As Tom says, there’s typically separate briefing on the cert. petition and the merits, but at the same time, there is necessarily discussion of the merits in the papers on cert. Plus, the Court has access to the lower court’s decision as well as, quite possibly, the briefing papers from the proceedings in the lower court. In the appropriate case, there may be enough there to make a ruling.


There’s an interesting article about this practice in the NY Times this very day, discussing possible outcomes of the latest Citizens United kerfuffle.


Apparently the Supreme Court has somewhat frequently been dropping the hammer on the Sixth Circuit in habeas cases, as it did here.

Does the SCOTUS ever give an oral decision from the Bench, with reasons to follow? Does it ever decline to call on the Respondent to argue during the hearing?

It can’t give an oral decision from the bench; it’s a panel.

Well summery reversals from Appellate courts usually means that i) the decision has been overtaken by events say a new ruling or statute or ii) the court below made a decision which was widely off the mark.

I suspect based on pure speculation that the SCOTUS also employs GVR (grant vacate remand) order in cases where the case does not really merit SCOTUS review, but cannot be permitted to stand in the interests of justice.

Why not? Here in Canada, appellate courts sittting in panels give oral decisions from the bench.

I suppose I should rephrase: they could, they just don’t.

Sometimes a dissenting Justice will read his or her opinion from the bench, as a way of emphasizing their disagreement.

do the judges in the majority ever read their decisions?

Anyone who’s interested should read the SCOTUS rules re petitions for cert and briefs. I was shocked to find out how short petitions for cert are and even more stunned at the page/word limitations on briefs.

If I’m reading the SCOTUS rules correctly, they’re actually more generous than the comparable rules for the Supreme Court of Canada.

The SCOTUS limits are set out in rule 33(1)(g), and give a limit of 9,000 words for petitions for cert, and 15,000 for briefs on the merits. Using the old rule of thumb of 250 words per page, that’s 36 pages for the cert petition and 60 for the briefs on the merits.

The comparable page limits for the SCC are set out in the SCC Rules. Rule 25(2) provides that the argument for an application for leave to appeal (equivalent to a cert petition) is to be no more than 20 pages. Rule 42(4) provides that the factums on appeal (equivalent to briefs on the merits) are to be no longer than 40 pages.

20 pages!? That’s a painful travesty.

No, it’s understandable. The test for leave being granted is that the case raises an issue of “public importance”. You don’t have to do a major legal argument and review all applicable legal holdings to meet that test.

The SCC looks at things like: are the appellate courts in disagreement? Does the decision below put a new twist on the SCC’s own cases? Is there a new statute which may have changed the law? Do the legal issues have a close relation to a matter of major public/political significance?

If you can’t make that case in 20 pages, odds are it’s not a matter of “public importance”.

Hmmm, with the latest amicus brief I was involved in (pre cert ruling) it took 20 pages just to explain the split in the U.S. Circuits. Maybe there are just fewer opportunities for that many differing rulings out of what I assume would be the Canadian equivalent to federal courts of appeal… Honestly, other than service via Hague convention, I have no clue about Canadian law/courts.

No. it’s one Federal Court of Appeal for the whole country, 10 provincial Courts of Appeal, and three territorial Courts of Appeal (although those are actually two of the provincial Courts of Appeal, sitting as terrirorial courts). It’s not that difficult to show a split in the appellate courts.