The court's annual term begins in October. Five justices constitute a quorum to hear a case, and decision is rendered by majority vote. In the event of a tie, the previous judgment is affirmed. Under the Judiciary Law as amended in 1934, cases are usually brought to the court by appeal or by writ of certiorari. The appeal procedure is used when the highest state court has declared that a U.S. statute is unconstitutional or that a state statute does not violate the U.S. Constitution, laws, or treaties. If a lower federal court rules that a U.S. statute is unconstitutional, the government may prosecute an immediate appeal. Certiorari is granted at the court's discretion, with most applications refused. It may be used to review the constitutional decisions of state courts of last resort and federal decisions on any important matter, especially when the inferior courts are in disagreement.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.