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The SCOTUS "Appeal Docket"

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There are two ways a case from a lower court can reach the US Supreme Court:  appeal or writ of certiorari.  The difference is not just technical.  On the certiorari docket, the high court can take the case or leave it, and it leaves ~99% of them.  Denial of certiorari leaves the case in the same posture as if the petition had never been filed.  The lower court decision stands, but only as a precedent of the lower court.  The Supreme Court's order denying certiorari has no precedential weight.

For a very few cases, Congress has provided for initial decision by a special three-judge district court with a right of appeal to the US Supreme Court.  They have to take it.  Most of these cases have to do with the subject nearest and dearest to the hearts of Congressmen -- elections.  Of these, the only ones relevant to the topic of this blog are the voter ID cases, voting fraud being a crime.  Prisoner release orders due to overcrowding also fall in this select group of cases.

Today the Supreme Court issued a decision reminding us that even though they have to take the "appeal" cases, they don't have to hold oral argument.  They summarily decided a reapportionment case, Tennant v. Jefferson County.  This will be the last decision of the October 2011 Term, I expect.

Voter ID cases are working their way up.  (See NLJ article yesterday.) They could be decided summarily as well.  California can also appeal the three-judge panel's refusal to modify the prisoner release order, see Brown v. Plata, but it remains to be seen if it will.

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