Writs of Mandamus
Historically, the writ of mandamus in England was a command issuing in the king's name and directing an individual, corporation, or inferior court to do a particular thing that related to their office and duty. In the United States, a writ of mandamus is a court order that directs a person (such as a public official) or entity (such as a company or a lower court) to perform a specific act.
A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary legal remedy granted only in exceptional circumstances. If another adequate remedy exists, the courts generally will refuse to issue a writ. A person seeking a writ of mandamus must show a clear legal right to have the particular act performed and must demonstrate that there is no other adequate remedy available.
The federal district courts have authority to hear any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States or its agencies to perform a specific duty. However, a writ of mandamus is not available to compel an official or agency to exercise discretion in a particular way. A writ of mandamus would be a proper remedy when a state agency refuses to release public information under a freedom of information act. Also, a writ of mandamus could be issued to compel a sheriff to deliver a deed under a court-ordered sale.
Writs of Prohibition
A writ of prohibition is another extraordinary legal remedy. A writ of prohibition is used to prevent a lower court (or a tribunal or an agency that is exercising judicial functions) from exceeding its authority or from taking jurisdiction over matters that do not properly fall within that lower court's authority. The writ is issued because injustice is likely to result otherwise. However, a writ of prohibition will not be issued if there is another adequate legal remedy. A person seeking a writ of prohibition must show that the body against which the writ is directed lacks authority. The court has discretion in deciding whether to issue a writ of prohibition.
Where a state circuit court judge issued an order extending voting hours, the state supreme court issued a writ of prohibition. The state supreme court found that the state election law was clear. The polls opened at 7:30 a.m. and closed at 7:30 p.m. There was no provision authorizing the courts to grant an extension of voting times. Consequently, the circuit court judge's order extending voting hours was void.
If the lower court or tribunal has jurisdiction, a writ of prohibition will not be issued to correct errors or irregularities in the proceedings. Also, a writ of prohibition will not be issued to prevent a court from making an erroneous decision. Such errors can be challenged on appeal.
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