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Discretionary power is the ability to act or make decisions according to one's own judgment.

The Supreme Court primarily exercises judicial discretion over two related areas:

  1. Granting Extraordinary Writs, such as writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, and certiorari, that allow the Court to command action from certain parties or official bodies for the benefit of the petitioner. The scope of and application of this authority is outlined in Rule 20 of the Supreme Court Rules (see Related Links and Related Questions, below).


  2. Discretionary Review Authority allows the Court to decide which cases it deems worthy of hearing under its appellate jurisdiction. Discretionary review is closely tied to extraordinary writs, as the authority is exercised by issuance of a writ of certiorari, or order to the lower courts to transmit case files when a petition is granted.

    Congress allowed the Supreme Court discretion over cases involving diversity, patent, revenue, criminal and admiralty issues in the Judiciary Act of 1891, and extended their authority to include the majority of cases in the Judiciary Act of 1925 (also called the Certiorari Act), legislation designed to reduce the justices' workload without increasing the size of the Court. At present, the Court has complete discretion over the cases it hears, and is no longer subject to mandatory appellate jurisdiction.


For more information, see Related Questions and Related Links, below.
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Q: What are the US Supreme Court's discretionary powers?
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