What kind of cases does the Supreme Court hear?

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One other important factor that determines whether the court will hear a case is if different circuit courts rule in contradictory manners regarding a question of law. For example, the Supreme Court took on King v. Burwell because two different courts—the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the DC Court...

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One other important factor that determines whether the court will hear a case is if different circuit courts rule in contradictory manners regarding a question of law. For example, the Supreme Court took on King v. Burwell because two different courts—the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the DC Court of Appeals—made opposite decisions about the legality of the tax credits that were authorized by the Obamacare legislation in states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges. A circuit split, as it is often referred to in legal circles, is often a trigger that determines whether the Supreme Court will take on a case in order to settle the interpretation of the disputed law once and for all.

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Almost all of the cases that the Supreme Court hears are cases that are on appeal.  The Supreme Court does have original jurisdiction over a very few cases, but these are quite rare.  This means that the Supreme Court is almost always hearing cases where only matters of law are at issue (rather than matters of fact).  The Supreme Court is simply, in those cases, trying to decide if the law (whether statute law or the Constitution) has been correctly applied.

Cases heard by the Supreme Court generally involve very important and difficult issues of law.  Cases that are not important, or where the law is obvious, do not make it all the way up the ladder to the Supreme Court.

So, the cases the Court hears are those that involve important and difficult questions of law.  It hears those cases either after they have come up through the federal court system or after they have been decided by the supreme court of a state.

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The United States Supreme Court hears many different types of cases. As part of the federal judicial system, the Supreme Court can hear cases that are being prosecuted by the federal government. The Supreme Court also hears many civil cases. Any case involving federal law or constitutional matters can potentially be heard by the Supreme Court. Since most Supreme Court cases are on appeal, they typically are meant to resolve matters of law, rather than matters of fact. Overall, there are three types of cases that the Supreme Court can hear. These are cases for review from lower federal courts, state court cases for review, and cases of original jurisdiction.

The vast bulk of Supreme Court cases fall into this first category. Federal district and appellate courts can request that their cases be heard by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will issue a writ of certiorari as a request to have the case sent up to them. This typically happens when matters of constitutional legitimacy are up for review and all other appellate avenues have been tried.

Sometimes cases from within the state court systems find their way to the Supreme Court. If all state appeal processes have been exhausted, yet a federal question remains undecided, it is possible that a case can be heard by the Supreme Court.

On occasion, the Supreme Court will hear cases of original jurisdiction. While in all other instances, the court has appellate jurisdiction, this type of case is different. Original jurisdiction is laid out in Article 3, Section 2, of the Constitution. Simply put, original jurisdiction refers to suits between two or more states. They could also potentially involve foreign diplomats. Unlike other cases that begin in lower courts, these types of cases begin in the Supreme Court.

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