Writ of Certiorari – Extraordinary writ similar to Writ of Error but available when Writ of Error is not

Writ of Certiorari:

[Law Latin ‘to be more fully informed’] (15c.) An extraordinary writ issued by an appellate court, at its discretion, directing a lower court to deliver the record in the case for review. The writ evolved from one of the prerogative writs of the English Court of King’s Bench, and in the United States it became a general appellate remedy.  The US. Supreme Court uses certiorari to review most of the cases that it decides to hear. Abbr. cert. Also termed certiorari. Cf. CERTIFICATION (5).“[1]

    Excerpt from Benjamin J. Shipman’s Handbook of Common-Law regarding certiorari:

    “The established method by which the Court of King’s Bench from the earliest times exercised superintendence over the due observance of their limitations by inferior courts, checked the usurpation of jurisdiction, and maintained the supremacy of the royal courts, was by writs of prohibition and certiorari.  A proceeding by writ of certiorari (cause to be certified) is a special proceeding by which a superior court requires some inferior tribunal, board, or judicial officer to transmit the record of its proceedings for review, for exceSs of jurisdiction.  It is similar to a writ of error, in that it is a proceeding in a higher court to superintend and review judicial acts, but it only lies in cases not appealable by writ of error or otherwise.”[2]

   Excerpt from Charles Alan Wright’s Federal Practice and Procedure:

     “The discretionary writ of certiorari has come to control access to almost all branches of Supreme Court jurisdiction.  Appeal jurisdiction has been narrowly limited, and certification of questions from federal courts of appeals has fallen into almost complete desuetude. Certiorari control over the cases that come before the Court enables the Court to define its own institutional role.”[3]

     Excerpt from Daniel R. Coquillette’s The Anglo-American Legal Heritage:

     “The writ of certiorari (from the Latin certiorarie ‘in form’) is used today in the United States as a general vehicle of discretionary appeal. Historically, however, the writ had a much narrower function. It lay only to inferior courts& only to demand that the record be ‘certified’ and sent to the King’s Bench to see if that [inferior] court had exceeded its power in particular cases.  It was most frequently used to review criminal indictments and local administrative orders, and was often used to examine the statutory authority for acts of administrative bodies created by statute.”[4]

  • certiorari facias: [Latin ‘a cause to be certified’] (18c.) The command of a writ of certiorari, referring to certification of the court record for2 review.”
  • Narrow Certiorari: (1947) Certiorari limited to reviewing questions about jurisdiction, the regularity of the proceeding, the exercise of unauthorized powers, or constitutional rights. Narrow certiorari is usually applied to appeals from arbitrators’ awards or the decisions of state agencies. It is most common in Pennsylvania. – Also termed limited certiorari.


[1]: All definitions from: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Benjamin J. Shipman, Handbook of Common-Law
Pleading § 340, at 541 (Henry Winthrop Ballantine ed., 3d ed. 1923)

[3]: Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure 5
4004, at 22 (2d ed. 1996).

[4]: Daniel R. Coquillette, The Anglo-American Legal Heritage 248 (1999)