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C, Certification,

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 07 June 2023


the process through which a U.S. court of appeals (and, until recently, the U.S. Court of Claims) can certify questions of law at (p. 154) issue in a case to the Supreme Court for binding instructions. Although counsel in a few cases have attempted unsuccessfully to invoke the certification procedure, only a lower court is permitted to certify questions to the Supreme Court. Moreover, only questions of law about which the lower court entertains doubt, not questions of fact, can be certified. Such cases thus form a very small part of the Supreme Court’s caseload, averaging only about one each term in recent decades. One of the rare illustrations of the procedure’s use arose in 1963, when the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit certified to the Supreme Court the question whether Mississippi’s governor and lieutenant governor were entitled to a *jury trial on criminal contempt citations growing out of their attempts to prevent the admission of James Meredith, a black man, to the University of Mississippi at Oxford. In United States v. Barnett (1964) the Court held that the Mississippi officials were subject to summary proceedings. (The circuit court cleared them the following year, citing “changed circumstances and conditions.”) In 1968, the Court was to hold that defendants in serious criminal contempt cases are entitled to jury trials.

See also courts of appeals; lower federal courts.

Tinsley E. Yarbrough