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.