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How Cases Come to the Supreme Court

Almost always, the cases heard in the Supreme Court have first been decided in the Superior Court, which is a trial court where a judge or a jury makes a decision based on conflicting stories from witnesses who describe the history of theSupreme Court Bench controversy. The losing party in the Superior Court has the right to one appeal to another court. Most of these appeals go first to the Appellate Court, Connecticut’s intermediate court of appeals.

Appeals come to the Supreme Court in one of two ways. A person who is dissatisfied with the judgment of the Appellate Court can ask the Supreme Court to take another look at the legal issues that are at stake, by filing a request that the appeal be certified. Other appeals come to the Supreme Court as a result of a decision to transfer the case to itself instead of having it be heard in the Appellate Court, or as a result of a law mandating that an appeal must be heard by the Supreme Court. For example, appeals involving reapportionment of voting districts and death penalty cases are always heard in the Supreme Court. After an appeal has been taken, each party files a brief and the court then schedules the case for oral argument at the next available session of the court.

If you listen to an oral argument at an appellate-level court such as the Supreme Court, you will notice that it differs from an oral argument in the trial court. In the trial court, the lawyer is addressing a jury of lay persons or a judge, urging the jury or judge to make certain findings of fact. In the Supreme Court, the lawyer is addressing a panel of justices, urging them to reach certain conclusions of law.

Before the oral argument, each justice has already carefully studied the written briefs that present each party’s legal arguments, as well as the factual and procedural history of the case. The justices therefore ask many questions in order to understand fully the positions being advanced by each party. Although the justices sometimes ask about the facts, the dialogue between the lawyers and the court centers on issues of law. The justices expect the lawyers to know how the present case fits in with other cases that the court has decided in the past and with statutes that the legislature has adopted. The justices may also inquire into the possible effect that a ruling in this case may have on related factual situations that may arise in the future. Experienced lawyers welcome this dialogue as the best way to win a close case. They know that oral argument may change the justices’ views of who should prevail on appeal or of why a particular party should prevail.