A mandamus is a judicial writ. It is a command issuing in the name of the sovereign authority from a superior court having jurisdiction and is directed to some person, corporation, or inferior court within the jurisdiction of such superior court. It requires them to do some particular thing that appertains to their office and duty, and which the superior court has previously determined, or at least supposes to be consonant to right and justice.

What is a Mandamus?

Mandamus is not a writ of right. It is not consequently granted. It is only granted at the discretion of the court to whom the application for it is made; and this discretion is not exercised in favor of the applicant, unless some just and useful purpose may be answered by the writ. This writ was introduced to prevent disorders from a failure of justice; therefore, it ought to be used in all occasions where the law has established no specific remedy. It should also be used wherein justice and good government ought to be one. Mandamus will not lie where the law has given another specific remedy.

The 13th section of the act of Congress of Sept. 24, 1789, gives the Supreme Court power to issue writs of mandamus in cases warranted by the principles and usages of law, to any courts appointed or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States.

When is a Mandamus Void?

The issuing of a mandamus to courts is the exercise of an appellate jurisdiction that is constitutionally vested in the supreme court. However, a mandamus directed to a public officer belongs to its original jurisdiction, and by the constitution, the exercise of original jurisdiction by the supreme court is restricted to certain specified cases, which do not comprehend a mandamus. According to the latter clause of the above section, authorizing a writ to be issued by the supreme court to persons holding office under the authority of the United States translates into a writ that is not warranted by the constitution, therefore, making it void.

Can Circuit Courts Issue a Mandamus?

The circuit courts of the United States may also issue writs of mandamus, but their power in this area is confined exclusively to those cases in which it may be necessary to the exercise of their jurisdiction.