Error, Writ of

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A writ of error is an order of an appellate court, directing a lower court to transmit the record of a case that it has decided, for review by the appellate court. The judiciary act of 1789 established the writ of error as the means of invoking the appellate jurisdiction of both the circuit courts and the Supreme Court. For a century, the writ of error was, in practice, virtually the exclusive method of invoking review by the Supreme Court. In the cases specified by law for issuance of the writ, review by the Supreme Court was obligatory. In 1891 Congress reorganized the federal judiciary, establishing the circuit courts of appeals. (See circuit courts of appeals act.) In some cases, these courts' decisions were final, unless the courts certified questions for review by the Supreme Court, or the Supreme Court in its discretion granted writs of certiorari to review their decisions. In 1925, in the course of reducing the Supreme Court's obligatory jurisdiction and expanding the Court's discretionary control of its docket, Congress changed the name of the writ of error; since that time the Supreme Court's theoretically obligatory appellate jurisdiction has been invoked by appeal.

Kenneth L. Karst


Robertson, Reynolds and Kirkham, Francis R. 1951 Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States, ed. Richard F. Wolfson and Philip B. Kurland. Pages 191–196, 756, 806–807. Albany, N.Y.: Matthew Bender.