(man-dame-us) n. Latin for “we order,” a writ (more modernly called a “writ of mandate”) which orders a public agency or governmental body to perform an act required by law when it has neglected or refused to do so. Examples: After petitions were filed with sufficient valid signatures to qualify a proposition for the ballot, the city refuses to call the election, claiming it has a legal opinion that the proposal is unconstitutional. The backers of the proposition file a petition for a writ ordering the city to hold the election. The court will order a hearing on the writ and afterwards either issue the writ or deny the petition. Or a state agency refuses to release public information, a school district charges fees to a student in violation of state law, or a judge will not permit reporters entry at a public trial. All of these can be subject of petitions for a writ of mandamus.
So, how do you get to the Supreme Court? “Mandamus, mandamus, mandamus.” The government leapfrogged over the usual procedures and filed for extraordinary relief—in the form of a writ of mandamus—in the appeals court. And when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals denied that writ, noting that the case needed to be fully decided in the lower court first, Cheney took the up elevator to the Supreme Court instead of the down elevator back to the trial court.