The most elemental feature of a petition for writ of certiorari is the Questions Presented page. Here the petitioner must concisely set out the basic issues at stake. Experienced Supreme Court practitioners consider a well-crafted Questions Presented to be the most critical tool for gaining cert consideration. In the words of Supreme Court scholar Stephen Shapiro, the Questions Presented “should be the colorful fly that irresistibly leads to a strike.”
So, Supreme Court filers must pay close attention to the formulation of the Questions Presented. And the first step is a careful reading of Rule 14.1(a), which tells us that the Questions Presented should be…
…expressed concisely in relation to the circumstances of the case, without unnecessary detail. The questions should be short and should not be argumentative or repetitive….The questions shall be set out on the first page following the cover, and no other information may appear on that page.
As a matter of practice, many filers begin the Questions Presented page with a brief introduction, followed by the actual questions. Ideally, the introduction should be set out as a passage that succinctly states the particulars of the case, to give the reader the broad context of the issues raised by the petition. While introductions are not specifically referenced in Rule 14.1(a), the Clerk’s Office does permit this material.
However, our contacts in the Clerk’s Office have advised us of a recent shift in their Rule 14 compliance review. Specifically, the case analysts will now require that the actual questions of the Questions Presented section begin on the first page following the cover. Stated another way, while the Clerk’s Office will continue to permit introductory passages leading off the Questions Presented, the introduction must conclude—and the actual questions must begin—on that first page. If the questions do not at least begin on the first page, the Clerk’s Office will deem the petition to be out of compliance with Rule 14.1(a).
Of course, page placement is determined by formatting, so the draft prepared by the filer will not accurately indicate where certain text will appear in the final booklet after typesetting. But Cockle Legal Briefs is able to help our customers manage this latest filing requirement. For example, a typical formatted booklet page holds about 230 words, so we now tell our customers to limit introductory material to no more than 200 words. And if, after typesetting our customer’s petition draft, we find that the questions have fallen off the first page, we will note the customer’s proof and suggest cuts to the introduction.
If you would like Cockle Legal Briefs to help you make sure your next Supreme Court petition satisfies the Court’s Questions Presented requirements—as well as all of the Court’s other filing conditions, both written and unwritten—give us a call.