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Grove City College v. Bell - Glossary

Majority Opinion

The majority opinion is an appellate opinion supporting the court’s judgment (the result reached in the case) which receives a majority vote of the justices or judges hearing the case.

Concurring Opinion

A concurring opinion is an appellate opinion of one or more justices or judges which supports the result reached in a case for reasons not stated in the majority opinion. A justice or judge can file an opinion that partially concurs with and partially dissents from the majority’s views, or that concurs only in the result based on alternative reasons.

Dissenting Opinion

A dissenting opinion is an appellate opinion of one or more judges which disagrees with the reasoning stated in the majority or plurality opinion and, consequently, with the result reached in a case.

About Appeals

An appeal is available if a party is dissatisfied with the outcome at the trial level. Common reasons for an appeal include claims that the trial proceedings were unfair or that the trial judge incorrectly applied the law.

The Purpose of Appellate Courts

The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They review the trial court record to make sure that the proper law was applied and that the proceedings were fair.

Petitioner/Appellant v. Respondent/Appellee

A party seeking review by an appellate court (in this case, Grove City College) is called a petitioner or an appellant. The opposing party (in this case, United States Secretary of Education Terrel Bell) is known as a respondent or an appellee. Each side presents written arguments, called briefs, to the appellate court. Others interested in the case may seek permission to file amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs.

Getting to the Supreme Court

The parties who are not satisfied with the decision of a lower court must petition the Supreme Court of the United States to hear their case.

These parties are called petitioners. They ask the Court to grant a writ of certiorari, which means that the Supreme Court orders a lower court to send the record of the case for its review. The Supreme Court is not obligated to hear these cases.

It usually hears cases that could have national significance, might harmonize conflicting decisions among the federal circuit courts of appeals, and/or might set a precedent for other courts to follow.

According to the Supreme Court's rules, four of the nine justices must vote to accept a case. The Court accepts 100-150 of the more than 7,000 cases that it is asked to review each year. If the justices decide to accept a case (grant certiorari or cert), the case is scheduled on the docket.

According to the Supreme Court’s rules, a petitioner has a certain amount of time to write a brief, putting forth arguments on the issue(s) before the Court. After the petitioner's brief has been filed, the respondent is given a certain amount of time to file its brief. Briefs may not exceed 50 pages.