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Here is the latest installment in our “In-Depth Look at the Supreme Court Rules” series.

Contents of a Petition

The required contents of a petition for certiorari, and the order in which they must appear, are set forth in Supreme Court Rule 14, except that the contents of a petition’s cover are set forth in Rule 34.1.

Generally speaking, a petition should be a relatively succinct document.  Using the Court’s required formatting and fonts, a petition’s 9,000-word limit works out to about 40 pages.  Conventional wisdom is that the ideal length for a petition is closer to 20 pages, though circumstances may call for petitions of different length.

According to Rule 14.1, a petition shall contain, in the order indicated:

  • The questions presented for review.

Questions should be short and not argumentative or repetitive.  They may be prefaced by a short introductory statement to set the scene, so that they may be understood.  For an in-depth discussion of the questions presented, please visit this detailed blog.

  • A list of all parties to the proceeding in the court whose judgment is sought to be reviewed (unless the cover case caption contains the names of all parties) and a corporate disclosure statement if a petitioner is a non-governmental corporate entity.

All parties to the proceeding in the court whose judgment is sought to be reviewed are deemed parties in the Supreme Court.  All parties other than the petitioner are considered respondents.

  • Tables of contents, appendices, and cited authorities (tables of contents and authorities may be omitted if the petition contains less than 1,500 words).
  • Citations to the official and unofficial reports of the opinions and orders below.
  • A concise statement of the basis for Supreme Court jurisdiction, showing:
    1. The date of judgment/order sought to be reviewed;
    2. The date of any order respecting rehearing or granting extension;
  • Express reliance on Rule 12.5 when filing a cross-petition;
  1. The statutory provision believed to confer Supreme Court jurisdiction (28 U.S.C. §1254(1) for federal cases and 28 U.S.C. §1257(a) for state cases).
  • The constitutional provisions, statutes, and regulations involved, set out verbatim.
  • A concise statement of the case which sets out the procedural and factual history of the case.
  • A concise argument.

The argument section is used to demonstrate errors in the lower court’s decision and the national importance of having the Supreme Court decide the questions involved.  It may be important to demonstrate that the ruling of the court that decided the case below is in conflict with the decisions of another appellate court.

A petition worthy of certiorari is generally thought to contain legal issues that: (1) have national importance; (2) have divided federal courts of appeals or state courts; and/or (3) have not been decided by the Supreme Court.  See Rule 10.

  • An appendix containing, in the order indicated:
    1. the opinions and orders entered in conjunction with the judgment sought to be reviewed;
    2. any other relevant opinions and orders entered in the case if reference thereto is necessary to ascertain the grounds of the judgment;
  • any order on rehearing;
  1. the judgment sought to be reviewed if the date of its entry is different from the date of the opinion or order required in sub-subparagraph i;
  2. relevant constitutional provisions, statutes, and regulations involved, set out verbatim, if not set out verbatim under the appropriate heading in the petition;
  3. any other material the petitioner believes essential to understand the petition.

A petitioner’s failure to present with accuracy, brevity, and clarity facts and law which enable the Court to adequately understand a petition is sufficient reason for the Court to deny a petition outright.

To see a sample petition for a writ of certiorari in full, click here.