51 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2009 Last revised: 1 May 2015
The Supreme Court's certiorari process is a barrier to justice for parties like Indian tribes and individual Indians. Statistically, there is a near zero chance the Supreme Court will grant a certiorari petition filed by tribal interests. At the same time, the Court grants certiorari in more than a quarter of petitions filed by the traditional opponents to tribal sovereignty, states. Why?
The Supreme Court has long maintained that the certiorari process is a neutral and objective means of eliminating patently frivolous petitions from consideration. This empirical study of preliminary memoranda drafted by the Supreme Court law clerk pool demonstrates the likelihood that the Court's certiorari process is neither objective nor neutral. Cert pool clerks overstate the relative merits and importance of petitions filed by states against tribal interests, while understating the merits and importance of tribal petitions.
In this study of more than 162 certiorari petitions filed between 1986 and 1994, a majority of petitions brought by state and local governments received favorable treatment from the cert pool while recommending denial in all but a single tribal petition, often labeling them "factbound" and "splitless." The impact of this weighted review of cert petitions is that a disproportionate number of state government petitions are granted while very few tribal petitions are granted.
Keywords: Supreme Court, certiorari, Federal Indian Law, Indian tribes, cert petition, Supreme Court law clerk, cert pool, constitutional law, states' rights, federalism, treaty rights
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Fletcher, Matthew L. M., Factbound and Splitless: The Certiorari Process as a Barrier to Justice for Indian Tribes. Arizona Law Review, Vol. 51, p. 933, 2009; MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1300935