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.

Supreme Court Rule 14.1(a) states that a Petition for Writ of Certiorari shall contain, “the questions presented for review, 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.…Only the questions set out in the petition, or fairly included therein, will be considered by the Court.”

The Questions Presented is your statement of the precise legal questions before the Court. They should identify the legal issues at stake, with sufficient reference to the facts of the case to make the matter concrete and compelling. Each question generally consists of one sentence, often beginning with the word “whether,” though this formula is not required. In a more complex case, the questions may be preceded by a short introduction setting out the key facts of the case.

Stephen Shapiro, in Certiorari Practice: The Supreme Court’s Shrinking Docket, states that “

[t]he very first page of the petition, setting forth the question presented, is the most important page in the entire document. It should be the colorful fly that irresistibly leads to a strike.” [Emphasis ours.] The Supreme Court Justices have indicated their agreement with this sentiment.

Former Justice William Brennan has stated publicly that in most cases he could decide whether certiorari should be granted solely based upon review of the Questions Presented. Current Justice Antonin Scalia has noted that the Questions Presented section “may well be the most important part of [an attorney’s] brief.” Other Justices have suggested that a clear and concise presentation of the issues in the Questions Presented section and elsewhere, is invaluable (for a Court wading through thousands of cert. petitions a year), in separating the wheat from the chaff.

The Questions Presented, like all parts of the brief, should be crafted to persuade the Court to rule in your favor. The questions are likely to be the Court’s first exposure to your case, and it is your first opportunity for persuasion. In addition to being persuasive, the questions must be easily readable. They should be written in a simple and well-organized manner.

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.