The Philosophy of Certiorari: Jurisprudential Considerations in Supreme Court Case Selection


In this Article, we offer a fuller jurisprudential analysis of the gatekeeping choices that the Justices make as they set the direction in which the Court will proceed. Using more recent data that we gathered from the docket books of Justices Brennan and Marshall, we show that rule-based and strategic factors, while undeniably important, cannot adequately account for the Justices’ voting behavior at the certiorari stage. Although the Justices consider the very same cases and materials, in light of the same criteria set out in the Court’s rule, they come to quite different conclusions about which cases merit plenary review. Even Justices closely aligned in decisions on the merits often have dramatically different voting records on certiorari. We suggest that other, more jurisprudential considerations also affect the individual Justices’ judgments about the quantity and content of the Court’s proper workload. In particular, we contend that a Justice’s views about what role the Supreme Court should play in the judicial system and American life—including his or her views on the nature of precedent, the importance of uniformity in federal law, and the Court’s appropriate role in effectuating social change—play a central role in shaping his or her decisions about case selection.


Legal case management, Certiorari, United States. Supreme Court, Judicial power



Margaret Meriwether Cordray (Capital University Law School)
Richard Cordray (Ohio State University College of Law)



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