Cert pool

Process wherein law clerks from different chambers collaborate in the screening of petitions for certiorari for inclusion on the plenary docket.

Because thousands of certiorariCertiorari, writ of petitions and appeals are filed each term with the Supreme Court, its justices have come to rely on their law clerks to help determine which cases the increasingly overburdened Court should review. Before the cert pool system, each justice received the briefs for all cases, and each clerk read each petition. In 1972 Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., suggested, and a majority of justices agreed, that the justices “pool” their law clerks and have them write memos on incoming certiorari petitions and appeals. Each petition is read and summarized by only one clerk from the pool, who writes a single case memo for all the participating justices. The participating justices agree to abide by the recommendations prepared by the member of the pool. A justice’s clerk reviews each incoming pool memo. The clerk may agree with the memo’s recommendation or may research and write a separate memo for his own justice.

In 1970 E. Robert Seaver, clerk of the Supreme Court, examines the docketed cases for the week. The growing caseload led to the creation of the cert pool in 1972.

(Library of Congress)

Critics claim that the cert pool reduces the number of people who screen each case and that screening done by mere clerks increases the risk that important case issues will be overlooked or mischaracterized. Supporters claim that clerks writing pool memos are better able to take a close look at each assigned case, unlike the cursory reviews conducted under the old system.

Certiorari, writ of

Clerks of the justices