How The California Supreme Court Operates

The work of the Supreme Court consists primarily of determining what cases the court will review and deciding those cases by written opinions.6 min read

The California Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice and six associate justices. The Chief Justice may assign justices of lower courts as pro tempore justices to assist the court when a regular justice is absent or disqualified in a particular case. The Chief Justice also designates an associate justice to serve as Acting Chief Justice in instances of absence, disqualification, or recusal.

The work of the Supreme Court consists primarily of determining what cases the court will review and deciding those cases by written opinions after holding oral argument.

Appeals in all death penalty cases are automatically taken to the Supreme Court. Other cases normally come before the court either in the form of petitions for review of decisions by the Courts of Appeal or as petitions for extraordinary writs of mandate, prohibition, certiorari, or habeas corpus. In these cases, the court must decide whether to accept the matter for decision.

Weekly Conference: the Court's Discretionary Decision Whether to Accept a Case

Like the United States Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction over many of the matters presented to it. Thus, with the exception of a relatively small number of appeals that come to the court directly, it has discretion to decide whether or not it will accept any particular case for review and decision on the merits.

When a petition for such discretionary review is filed with the court, it is scheduled for one of the court's weekly Wednesday conferences, at which time the court will decide whether to accept the case. At the time the conference date is selected, the matter is assigned by the Calendar Coordinator on a rotational basis to one of the central staffs. Overflow petitions are assigned to one of the justices for preparation of a "conference memorandum."

The conference memorandum summarizes the relevant procedural or evidentiary facts of the case, any pertinent rulings in the matter by inferior courts or administrative agencies, and the issues raised by the parties. The conference memorandum also contains a discussion of the merits of the issues and a recommendation as to whether the court should accept the case.

The justices receive copies of these memoranda during the week preceding the scheduled conference. The justices use the memoranda to assist them in assessing the merits of the cases and the importance of the issues involved. If a justice desires, he or she may request that a matter be continued to a later conference in order to circulate a "supplemental conference memorandum" advancing an analysis or recommendation different from that of the original conference memorandum.

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