San Diego Review July 1, 1996
Alaskan Lightening Bolts Twice at Supreme Court?
By Dwayne Hunn
Certiorari is a Latin term which in English practice became a writ commanding inferior courts to return records for review by a higher court. In 1925 Congress enacted the Judiciary Act to help lessen the Supreme Court’s work load, so the Supreme Court now receives 4,000 – 5,000 annual requests for “certiorari” hearings.
The Court grants certiorari only “where there are special and important reasons therefor.” This amount to 10 to 15 percent of the certiorari petitions received in a given year. Ninety percent of the cases decided annually by the Supreme Court started as a writ of certiorari.
The Court’s work calendar usually runs from October to the end of June. Rarely does the Court work into July, as it did in 1971 and 1974 when the Court dealt with the Pentagon Papers case and Nixon tapes, respectively.
Rarely does an individual bring more than one certiorari issue to the Court. However, in late June of 1996, 25 years after he first appealed to the Court to allow the Pentagon Papers, which Daniel Ellsberg had leaked to him, to be published by Beacon Press, former Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel (1969-81) is again tying to appear before the Supreme Court as a litigant.
Why? Because in 1995 the Washington State Supreme Court supported its Attorney General in saying that its citizens didn’t have the power to vote on Philadelphia II, Gravel’s effort to establish a National Initiative process. Gravel sees this as, “Effecting peoples ability to act within a federal format. It denies their sovereignty as federal citizens.”
Thanks to Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor, Mike Gravel has been given until June 29th to prepare his appeal for certiorari. If he is successful in persuading the Court that this is as an important an issue as his last Pentagon Paper appeal, then he will probably have 45 days to prepare a brief for the Court. During those days a number of Yale scholars will help him prepare and argue the case in the fall…. Even the Yale scholars, however, think his chances of getting certiorari or “certified” are thin.
Back in 1971 Gravel’s chances of beating the Nixon Justice Department were thinner than erased tape. Nonetheless, thanks to Gravel, Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers many are a lot smarter on war, peace and the innards of government than we ever will be on magically erased words on about 13 minutes of thin tape.
Don Quixote knew that unless you mounted your sturdy stead and charged the windmill with lance in hand, you would never know whether you might stick one of the monster’s spinning blades. Once stuck, a good knight can go for one helluva ride.
Gravel may be tilting with a supreme windmill, but if he hits a blade he’ll pull the country along for an enlightening political ride.
Update: The US Supreme Court denied certiorari on Philadelphia II vs. Gregoire.