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Words of Law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s word is certiorari.


(ser-shee-rair-ee)[Law Latin “to be more fully informed.”] An extraordinary writ issued by an appellate court, at its discretion, directing a lower court to deliver the record in the case for review. The writ evolved from one of the prerogative writs of the English Court of King’s Bench, and in the United States it became a general appellate remedy… Also termed writ of certiorari.

Black’s Law Dictionary,  10th ed., Editor in Chief, Bryan A. Garner, Thomson Reuters, 2014.

A party may file a petition for certiorari asking a court to issue a writ of certiorari and review a lower court decision.   This process is used by the US Supreme Court to select the cases that it will decide.  Rule 10 of the US Supreme Court states “Review on a writ of certiorari is not a matter of right, but of judicial discretion.  A petition for a writ of certiorari will be granted only for compelling reasons…”  The US Supreme Court receives 7,000-8,000 petitions for certiorari each term, but it only grants a writ of certiorari in approximately 80-100 cases.  If an appellate court does not grant certiorari, the lower court’s decision stands.

Sometimes, certiorari is referred to as “cert,” as in “The court granted cert.”

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