Certification may refer to a broad range of acts of government officials high and low: a clerk may certify the accuracy of a copy of a document; the Federal Power Commission may issue a certificate that a natural gas pipeline will serve "public convenience and necessity." In federal courts, however, certification has a narrower meaning. A court may certify questions of law to another court for authoritative decision.
The united states courts of appeals are authorized by Congress to certify "distinct and definite" questions of law for decision by the Supreme Court. The practice has been criticized for influencing the Supreme Court to decide issues in the abstract, without a complete factual record, and for weakening the Court's control over the questions it will decide. Partly for these reasons, this form of certification is rarely used.
More frequently, federal district courts certify doubtful questions of state law for decision by state courts. About half the states expressly authorize their courts to answer such certified questions, and the Supreme Court has applauded the technique. This form of certification is merely a variant form of abstention.
Kenneth L. Karst
Bator, Paul M.; Mishkin, Paul J.; Shapiro, David L.; and Wechsler, Herbert, eds. 1973 Hart and Wechsler's The Federal Courts and the Federal System, 2nd ed. Pages 1582–1586. Mineola, N.Y.: Foundation Press.