Judicial Nominations: Court Jargon

Court Jargon

Amicus curiae brief

An amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief is a document filed with the court to express opinions about a case by interested parties who are not directly involved with the case at issue.

Writ of Certiorari

A writ of certiorari is a discretionary device used by the Supreme Court to choose the cases it wishes to hear.

Circuit Courts of Appeal (also known as Appellate Courts or United State Courts of Appeal)

The United States is divided into 13 circuits, each with a court of appeals. The courts of appeal review cases from the District Courts within their circuit. Judges on these courts are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

United States District Courts

The United States District Courts are trial courts that have jurisdiction over trials and cases interpreting federal law, which involve federal statutes or crimes, or cases between litigants of different states and/or countries. There are 94 federal districts. Judges on these courts are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Law Clerk

A law clerk or a judicial clerk is a person who provides assistance to a judge or Justice. Most clerks assist in researching and writing opinions.


The plaintiff is the party (individual or group) that initiates a lawsuit and brings it before a court by filing a “complaint.”


The defendant is the party (individual or group) required to respond to plaintiff’s complaint.

SCOTUS (hint: rhymes with “notice”)

SCOTUS is an abbreviation for the Supreme Court of the United States.


A vacancy is a seat on a court that is empty because the sitting judge has stepped down, died or retired.

Legal Opinion

An opinion is an explanation by a judge that accompanies a ruling in a legal case, laying out the rationale and legal principles that led the court to decide as it did.

Majority Opinion

A majority opinion is a legal opinion that represents the views of the majority of the members of the court.

Concurring Opinion

A concurring opinion is an opinion that agrees with the majority’s ruling on a particular case but uses different rationales or legal principles to reach its conclusion.

Dissenting Opinion

A dissenting opinion expresses disagreement with the majority opinion and is issued by the minority.