There are innumerable details about the U.S. Supreme Court that many, including practitioners, simply do not think about; mostly, because it just doesn’t come up that often.
About twice a year, I will receive a call from an attorney who is planning to file for certiorari, but who is waiting on the Court to rule on their motion for extension of time. The first question they ask is how to know whether their motion has been granted (other than by calling the Court everyday, which I always talk them out of). Other times, I receive calls from people who are looking for a particular case on the Court’s online docket page and are unable to find it.
To my knowledge, there is no online resource explaining the Court’s use of docket numbers. Because this seems to be a recurring problem for people, I thought I’d clarify a small aspect of Supreme Court practice.
The Court has two main categories of dockets that most cases fall into. The first is the paid docket. This docket contains all the cases where the party has paid the filing fee and printed the petition in booklet format. It includes all paid petitions for certiorari, habeas corpus, and mandamus, as well as jurisdictional statements in cases coming directly from federal district courts. The first petition of the summer recess is numbered 01-1 and everything behind it is numbered sequentially (although a new term begins on the first Monday of October, the Court starts the new numbering at beginning of the summer recess, which Kevin Russell at SCOTUSblog explains in this post).
The second is the in forma pauperis docket, which is full of petitions from federal and state public defenders and prisoners. The “IFP” or “indigent” docket is numbered starting at 01-5001.
The “A” docket is comprised of applications and motions, such as those for stays, bail, and extensions of time. It also includes the Court’s favorite motion: one for enlargement of word-count limitations (because the Court doesn’t have enought to read!). Those are numbered starting with 1A1. So if you have a pending motion for extension of time, you can search the Court’s docket page by name and find the status of your motion without calling the Clerk’s Office.
For original actions, such as those between two states, the Court retains the “O” docket. Unlike the regular docket, which sees the numbering system change each year, the O docket is carried over from term to term.
The two other dockets are the “M” docket for motions to file certiorari under seal or out of time, and the “D” docket for attorney disbarments. The numbering systems for those dockets are the same as the others.
As I said, you can search for your case using the Supreme Court’s docket search web page. One small note: the Court’s docket page isn’t the easiest to use, so if for some reason you cannot find what you’re looking for, you might need to search multiple times to find what you’re looking for.