questions presented

When filing a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, the Questions Presented section is the first item that the Justices and their law clerks view. Because the Court’s certiorari jurisdiction, though sweeping in scope, is exercised sparingly, a well-crafted Questions Presented is of paramount importance in persuading the Court to exercise its power of review. The following are tips of what NOT to do when writing your Questions Presented.

When Writing your Questions Presented, Do NOT Include Too Much or Too Little Information

The Questions Presented should ideally fit on one page. This ensures that the reader can encompass all the questions with one glance at the page and keeps within Rule 14.1(a) that the Questions “should be short” and “without unnecessary detail.” With too many facts, the issue can become long and unreadable, with too few, it becomes merely an abstract question of law that conveys none of the life or substance of the dispute before the Court. Lengthy questions not only provide more reading matter for overburdened Justices and their law clerks, but also often result in questions that are difficult to follow or understand. The Questions Presented should, above all else, be easily readable. Excessively long recitations of facts will often defeat this objective.

The Supreme Court Justices have indicated their agreement with the above sentiment. Current Justice Antonin Scalia has noted, “

[s]ome counsel erroneously assume that a court rule requiring the brief to contain a statement of the question presented demands a one-sentence question that contains all the relevant premises. The result is often a rambling statement that no mortal reader could wade through.” Former Justice John Paul Stevens has stated that “the most helpful and persuasive Petitions for Certiorari to this Court usually present only one or two issues, and spend a considerable amount of time explaining why those questions of law have sweeping importance and have divided or confused other courts.”

When Writing your Questions Presented, Do NOT Be Neutral

Although Rule 14.1(a) indicates that the Questions Presented should not be “argumentative,” this is a time for advocacy, not neutrality. It is a significant opportunity to frame the issues in a way that is beneficial to your side of the case. The Questions can, and indeed should, advocate a particular position favorable to your client. They should be persuasive, but should not appear to be overly so. Subtle persuasion can be achieved through the choice of words and the choice of facts to emphasize. A well-written Questions Presented will focus the Justices’ attention on your view of the case and could influence the perspective of the Justices in reading and assessing your brief.

Unlike other printers, Cockle Legal Briefs will review your Questions Presented to ensure that the issues you raise are properly framed for the Court. While there is no formulaic way to craft a question to the Court, the Cockle staff has conducted extensive research on the formulation of Questions Presented filed in the United States Supreme Court and have compiled guidelines from the Justices themselves as well as from leading Supreme Court practitioners which we use in our review of your questions. No other printer utilizes these valuable resources, and Cockle Legal Briefs stands alone in providing this service.