The issue may seem trivial, but it is not. Knowing when to capitalize the “c” in court and when to leave it in lower case is a matter of legal literacy.
Rule 7.3.1. and Rule 8 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation instructs us to capitalize the word, “court,” in all written briefing and other legal documents filed in federal courts in these instances:
(1) when you are referring to the Supreme Court of the United States—even when using only part of the name
<the Court’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison>;
(2) when you are stating a court’s full name, that is, when stating the title of the court
<the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit>
<the California Supreme Court>;
(3) when you’re referring to the court you’re appearing before, however low it ranks
<Smith asks this Court to grant his motion for summary judgment against Jones.
And of course, capitalize court when it happens to be the first word of a sentence and when it appears in the title of a document or paper.
Convention calls for capitalizing court when referring to the highest tribunal within the system in which you are appearing. So dictates the California Style Manual under section 4:1. Follow this rule even when you’re using only part of the official name of the California Supreme Court, e.g. “the Supreme Court.” The same goes when using only part of the official name of one of the California Courts of Appeal, e.g., “the Court of Appeal, First District, Division One” or “Division One.” Keep in mind that in California, the word, “appeal,” in the title of our appellate courts takes the singular form, but in the title of federal appellate courts, it takes the plural.
Like The Bluebook, the California Style Manual requires capitalization of court when using only part of the official names of the United States Supreme Court and the United States Courts of Appeal, e.g., “the Ninth Circuit.” And, like The Bluebook, the California Style Manual tells us to keep court in lowercase when referring generally to a court or courts, e.g., “the circuit court,” “the federal courts of appeals,” or “the high court.”
In California, when referring to a state trial court, capitalize “department,” as in “law and motion department,” only when stating the formal title, such as in the caption of a pleading. Otherwise, use lowercase: “The matter was transferred to the law and motion department.”
Drill down on the California rules concerning when and when not to capitalize “c” in court or courts by examining the lists of correct examples in the California Style Manual, sections 4:1 and 4:2.
About the author:
Attorney Savannah Blackwell is a former news reporter who covered government and politics for more than a decade, mostly in San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SavannahBinSF