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 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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