Litigation at the Supreme Court is called an Original Action.  The parties are bringing their dispute directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing all lower courts.  Most Original Actions are civil disputes between two or more States and the Court always has original and exclusive jurisdiction over these cases.  See 28 U.S.C. § 1251(a).  Recent cases have involved disputes over water rights between States and interpretation of Interstate Compacts.

In addition, 28 U.S.C. § 1251(b) identifies other cases where the Court has original (but not exclusive) jurisdiction:

  1. All actions or proceedings to which ambassadors, other public ministers, consuls, or vice consuls of foreign states are parties;
  2. All controversies between the United States and a State;
  3. All actions or proceedings by a State against the citizens of another State or against aliens.

Examples include:

  • Orig. 128, Alaska v. United States;
  • Orig. 136, Brzak, et al. v. United Nations, et al.;
  • Orig. 139, Mississippi v. City of Memphis, et al.;
  • Orig. 140, Louisiana v. John Bryson, Secretary of Commerce;
  • Orig. 141, Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado.

scotus sealSupreme Court Rule 17 controls Original Actions. And, although the content of pleadings and briefs should comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, these documents must be prepared in booklet format as prescribed by Supreme Court Rule 33.1.

The initial pleading (Complaint) must be preceded by a Motion For Leave To File and may be accompanied by a brief in support of the motion.  An appendix is optional.  See Supreme Court Rule 17.3. There is no due date and the filing fee is $300.  When a State is a party, the Complaint must be served on both the Governor and the Attorney General.

After resolution (and sometimes years later), a case between the same parties involving the same or similar issues may be brought again under the same docket number.  Example:

  • Orig. 126, Kansas v. Nebraska & Colorado, filed 5/1/98; case concluded 12/1/03;                 new motion for leave filed 5/3/10; motion granted 4/4/11; active case.

However, there is no guarantee that the Court will grant the motion.  Example:

  • Orig. 133, Arkansas v. Oklahoma, filed 11/7/05; motion denied 2/21/06.

Original Actions are rare.  The most recent filing is Orig. 143, Mississippi v. Tennessee, et al., filed 6/6/14.  Each Original Action is unique.  But each one goes through the same, distinct stages from filing to resolution.  Our next posts will explore those stages in depth.