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Briefs - Introduction

The abbrevations used in legal citations may be confusing to non-lawyers. The two most common types of citations in briefs filed by the Solicitor General are those to legal decisions (particularly previous decisions of the Supreme Court) and those to applicable statutes (particularly federal statutes codified in the United States Code).

Legal decisions are usually cited by name, volume number, reporter, page number, and date: Thus, Witte v. United States, 518 U.S. 389, 395 (1995), is a citation to a case, decided in 1995, that appears in volume 518 of the United States Reports (the official reporter of Supreme Court decisions), beginning at page 389, and specifically to a passage that appears on page 395. Because the United States Reports take some time to appear, recent cases are also frequently cited to the privately published Supreme Court Reporter, abbreviated "S. Ct.": Caron v. United States, 118 S. Ct. 2007 (1998). Decisions of the federal courts of appeals are generally cited to the Federal Reporter, 2d or 3d series, and include a reference to the court of appeals that decided the case (1st Circuit through 11th Circuit, District of Columbia Circuit, or Federal Circuit): for example, Korobkin v. United States, 988 F.2d 975 (9th Cir. 1993).

Federal statutes are generally cited to a particular Title and Section of the United States Code: 18 U.S.C. 2113, for example, is the provision that makes bank robbery a federal crime. Federal statutes are also sometimes cited to the Statutes at Large, by volume and page number: 106 Stat. 3384.

See Types of Briefs (Petition Stage).

Amicus curiae:
Latin for "friend of the court." (The plural is "amici curiae," and both are often abbreviated to simply "amicus" or "amici.") The Solicitor General files amicus curiae briefs in cases in which the government is not a party, but has interests or views that may be helpful to the Court in considering and deciding a case. The government often files such briefs once the Court has decided to review a case on the merits. It is much less common for the Solicitor General to file an amicus curiae brief at the petition stage, except in response to an invitation from the Court.

Appellate jurisdiction:
Although most cases are subject to Supreme Court review only under the Court's discretionary certiorari jurisdiction, in some cases the law provides for an "appeal" to the Court, rather than for review by writ of certiorari. (One common example of appellate jurisdiction is cases under the Voting Rights Act.) In practice, the Court's appellate jurisdiction is also highly discretionary, but the form of papers filed and orders issued is somewhat different. Instead of a petition for a writ of certiorari, the party seeking review files a "jurisdictional statement" setting forth the grounds for appellate jurisdiction and arguing that the case presents a substantial question that warrants Supreme Court review. A party opposing review files a response that is styled a "motion to dismiss or affirm." If the Court decides to review the case, it issues an order that "notes probable jurisdiction" over the case. If the Court decides not to entertain full briefing and argument, it may issue a summary order affirming or reversing the judgment of the lower court, or it may "dismiss" the case "for lack of a substantial federal question." Summary affirmances and reversals have precedential value; dismissals are generally viewed as similar to denials of certiorari.

Latin name for a writ that directs a lower court to deliver the record of proceedings in a case to a higher court for review. Often abbreviated "cert." (pronounced "sert"). Under present law, most cases come to the Supreme Court on a petition for a writ of certiorari (filed by the party that loses in the lower court). The Court has the discretion to grant or deny any petition. If the Court grants a petition, the case is usually set for full briefing by the parties, followed by oral argument and, ultimately, a written decision by the Court affirming, reversing, or modifying the decision of the lower court. If the Court denies a petition, the lower court's judgment remains intact. The Court's denial of review does not, however, express any view on the merits of the underlying questions presented by the case, and has no precedential value in and of itself. See, e.g., Maryland v. Baltimore Radio Show, Inc., 338 U.S. 912, 917-919 (1950) (opinion of Frankfurter, J., respecting denial of certiorari).

The briefs available on this site should include essentially all briefs, other than responses to petitions in IFP cases, filed by the Solicitor General with the Supreme Court on or after July 1, 1998. There are also some older briefs available, as follows (see Types of briefs):

7/98-date: All filings except IFP responses

1993-1996: Merits briefs and responses

1986-1990: Merits briefs and responses

1982-1985: Merits briefs

NOTE that: (1) Older briefs are not available in Acrobat/.pdf format; (2) The briefs included are not necessarily all of those filed during the indicated periods; (3) The assignment of briefs to Terms may not correspond to that used from July, 1998 forward; and (4) Formatting varies depending on when briefs were collected and how they were converted to electronic format (thus, for example, the HTML versions of briefs for 1993-1995 indicate page breaks).

Docket numbers:
The Supreme Court assigns a unique docket number to every case when the petition, jurisdictional statement, or other initial pleading is filed. (See Types of briefs.) That number appears on every brief filed in the case. For cases within the Court's certiorari or appelate jurisdiction, the first two digits of the docket number indicate when the petition or other initial pleading was first filed, while the remaining numbers are assigned sequentially depending on the date of filing. Paid cases are assigned sequential numbers beginning with 1, while IFP cases are assigned numbers beginning with 5000. The Court now changes its "docket year" each summer when the Court rises for the summer recess, usually at the end of June. Note, however, that the Supreme Court Term does not formally end until the succeeding October Term begins. Thus, a petition for certiorari filed in August of 1998 will bear a docket number beginning with "98-", but it is still filed during the October 1997 Term.

Format options:
Briefs filed after June 30, 1998, are generally available on this site in two formats. By clicking on a case name, you will usually retrieve the "HTML" version of a brief. HTML (which stands for "hyper-text markup language") is the present standard format for "world wide web" documents, and any browser should be able to read it. The HTML language, available conversion programs, and our resources impose limitations, however, on how closely the HTML versions of our briefs can reproduce the originals. In particular, the HTML versions we provide typically will not include tables of contents or tables of authorities; will not show the page breaks as they occur in the original; and will place all footnotes at the end of the document.

For these reasons, for the 1997 and later Terms, we have tried to provide another version of each brief in the Adobe Acrobat or ".pdf" format. At the top of each HTML brief (for 1997 and later), you should find a link labeled "view pdf version." In order to view the .pdf version, you will need to have the Adobe Acrobat viewer, which is presently available free from various sources, including Adobe's website. The viewer will allow you to read (and save or print) the .pdf version of the brief, which should be the same as (or very close to) the original printed brief, including the table of contents, table of authorities, pagination, and footnotes. (We reemphasize, however, that the only "official" version of the brief is the printed one filed with the Supreme Court.)

IFP cases:
A litigant who cannot afford to bear certain ordinary court costs may ask the Court for leave to proceed "in forma pauperis," or "IFP." If leave is granted, the litigant may file a petition or other initial pleading in typewritten rather than printed form, and without paying the normal $300 docketing fee. The response to an IFP petition may also be filed in typescript rather than printed. At present, the briefs available on this site do not include the government's responses to IFP petitions.

When the Court is considering whether or not to grant review in a case in which the government is not a party, it sometimes issues an order inviting the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States. The brief filed in response to such an order is an amicus curiae brief at the petition stage (see Types of briefs), but it is often referred to informally as an "invitation."

Merits stage:
The secondary stage of pleading in the Supreme Court, after the Court has already decided to exercise its discretion to hear and decide the case on the merits (by granting a writ of certiorari, noting probable appellate jurisdiction, or granting a motion for leave to file a complaint in a case within the Court's original jurisdiction). At this stage, the parties file full briefs (sometimes known as "merits briefs") addressing the merits of the questions presented for review by the Court.

Oral argument:
Once a case has been fully briefed on the merits, the Court generally schedules it for oral argument. Argument is heard in two-week sessions, approximately once each month from October through April. During a session, the Court hears arguments on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Typically, it also announces orders (including orders granting or denying writs of certiorari) on Mondays. When the Court is prepared to announce its decision in a case heard earlier in the Term, it usually does so before hearing arguments on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

Original jurisdiction:
Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the Supreme Court "original" jurisdiction over certain classes of cases: "Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be a Party." See also 28 U.S.C. 1251. In modern practice, the original jurisdiction is invoked primarily in cases involving disputes between or among States with respect to their borders or other territorial or natural-resource issues. See, e.g., New Jersey v. New York, No. 120 Orig., 118 S. Ct. 1726 (1998) (adjudicating States' territorial claims to land-filled portions of Ellis Island). A party seeking to invoke the Court's original jurisdiction files a "motion for leave to file a complaint." The adverse party then typically files a "brief in opposition," after which the Court may grant or deny the motion for leave to file. If the motion is granted, and if (as is usual) there are factual issues to be resolved, the Court will typically appoint a "special master" to conduct evidentiary proceedings and then report to the Court.

A petition for certiorari or other initial pleading filed with the Court must generally be printed, and accompanied by a docketing fee of $300. The response to such a petition must also be printed. Cases in which the initial pleading is printed and the filing fee has been paid are sometimes referred to as "paid cases," to distinguish them from IFP cases.

Petition stage:
The initial stage of pleading in the Supreme Court, at which the Court decides whether or not to review and decide a case on the merits. Under present law, this stage usually begins when the party that lost in the lower court files a petition for a writ of certiorari. See Types of briefs.

Supreme Court Term:
The Court's annual Term begins each year on the first Monday in October, and ends the next year on the day before the new Term begins. S. Ct. Rule 3. Thus, the October 1997 Term (sometimes abbreviated "O.T. 1997") began on Monday, October 6, 1997, and ends on Sunday, October 4, 1998. Note that this is not the same annual period that the Court uses for assigning docket numbers, which can lead to some confusion. Thus, a certiorari petition filed in August of 1998 will bear a docket number beginning with "98-", but it is still filed during October Term 1997.

Types of briefs:
The Solicitor General, like other parties, files a number of different types of briefs or other pleadings with the Supreme Court, depending primarily on (i) the type of case, (ii) the stage of proceedings, and (iii) whether the government is a party to the case or an amicus curiae.

  • Type of case:
    Under present law, most cases come to the Supreme Court under its certiorari jurisdiction. Others invoke the Court's appellate or, even less frequently, original jurisdiction.

  • Petition stage:
    At the initial stage of proceedings, in which the Court generally evaluates whether a case is sufficiently important to warrant review and a decision on the merits, the party seeking review files a petition for a writ of certiorari, a jurisdictional statement, or a motion for leave to file a complaint, depending on the type of case. (See the entries for each type of case, linked above.) The responding party (known as the "respondent" or "appellee") then typically files a "brief in opposition" (in a certiorari or original case) or a "motion to dismiss or affirm" (in an appellate case). The petitioner, appellant, or plaintiff then has the opportunity to file a "reply brief" or "answer".

    On occasion the responding party, although disagreeing on the merits, will agree with the petitioner, appellant, or plaintiff that the matter warrants review by the Court. A responding brief that takes that position is sometimes called an "acquiescence." Even more rarely, the responding party will agree that the lower court made some error that requires reversal of its judgment. A response that takes that position is sometimes called a "confession of error."

  • Merits stage:
    Once the Court has granted certiorari or noted probable jurisdiction, the petitioner or appellant files an opening brief on the merits. (In original jurisdiction cases, the matter is typcially referred to a "special master" for initial proceedings.) The respondent or appellee then files its responding brief on the merits, after which the petitioner or appellant may file a reply brief. After the briefing is complete, the Court generally sets the case for oral argument.

  • Amicus briefs:
    The Solicitor General may file amicus curiae briefs in cases to which the federal government is not a party, if there are materials or arguments that the government wishes to bring to the Court's attention. Although the government may file such a brief suggesting that the Court grant or deny review in a case, the Solicitor General does not generally file amicus briefs at the petition stage unless invited to do so by the Court. See Invitations. Once the Court has decided to grant review in a case, however, the Solicitor General frequently files amicus briefs on the merits in cases involving issues of public importance.

  • Other Filings:
    The Solicitor General periodically files other pleadings with the Court or with individual Justices. Apart from routine matters, such as requests for extensions of time, circumstances occasionally require the filing of applications for extraordinary writs, such as a writ of mandamus, or for the temporary stay of a lower court's order. Conversely, the Solicitor General is periodically called upon to respond to similar applications filed by other parties in cases to which the government is a party

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