What Is a Writ of Mandamus?

A writ of mandamus is a court order issued by a judge at a petitioner’s request compelling someone to execute a duty that they are legally obligated to complete. A writ can also be issued when the authority of a higher court is required to order a lower court or government agency to complete a duty to uphold the law or to correct an abuse of discretion. The writ of mandamus can be used to order a task to be completed, or in other cases, it may require an activity to be ceased.

Key Takeaways

  • A writ of mandamus is a court order compelling someone to execute a duty that they are legally obligated to complete.
  • A writ is also used to order a lower court or government agency to complete a duty to uphold the law or to correct an abuse of discretion.
  • Writs of mandamus are unique because they can be made without completing the judicial process or before a case has concluded. 

Understanding Writs of Mandamus

Writs of mandamus are unique because they can be made without completing the judicial process or before a case has concluded. They are powerful. However, they are rarely used because a petitioner must prove there are no other remedies to the situation and that someone is suffering an injustice due to the failure to comply with the law. Judges prefer not to issue writs unless it is completely necessary because of the disruption they cause to the legal process.

Writs of mandamus can be made before a trial has concluded and without completing the judicial process.

Types of Writs of Mandamus

An alternative mandamus is issued as the first step in the writ of mandamus process. The alternative mandamus commands the defendant to perform the act demanded or appear in court to explain the reason for not performing it. A peremptory mandamus is issued when the defendant fails to prove sufficient reason for not performing the act in question to comply with the alternative mandamus. The peremptory mandamus is an absolute command to the defendant to complete the act in question immediately. A continuing mandamus is issued to a lower public authority requesting that it perform its required tasks to prevent a miscarriage of justice.

Fast Fact

Writs of mandamus are powerful but rarely used because they disrupt the legal process.

Federal Courts and Mandamus

Mandamus orders at the Federal level occur when a party to a suit desires to appeal a judge's decision but is blocked by rules against interlocutory appeals, an appeal of a trial court ruling that is submitted before the trial itself has concluded. In this case, the party sues the judge instead of appealing directly. The party seeks a mandamus that compels the judge to correct their earlier mistake. This indirect appeal can only be applied if there is no other way to seek a review. 

State Courts and Mandamus

At the state level, the rules on mandamus and similar orders vary by jurisdiction.